Review: Gorgeously Macabre Color Out of Space (2020) Dazzles and Disturbs with Lovecraftian Horror
Color Out of Space crashed into limited theaters last month and I was lucky enough to get a chance to see it before its theatrical run ended. Based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, Nicholas Cage stars in the trippy cosmic horror film. Color Out of Space follows the Gardner family being tormented by a strange entity that came from a meteorite that struck down in their farmland. Their initial curiosity and excitement turn to panic as they realize that the entity, known only as the color, is changing everything around them: animals, plants, time, space, and even each other. With contact to the outside world limited, the Gardners must band together to escape the wrath of the color.
Color Out of Space brings Lovecraftian horror to a small estate in the Northeast. It is hard to truly capture Lovecraft’s brand of terror, but Director Richard Stanley nailed it. A twisted, candy-colored kaleidoscope of body horror, Color Out of Space is both a shocking and spellbinding story of science fiction. Not much is explained about the color, the film’s antagonist, and that is what makes it truly frightening. The unknown is always scary, but Stanley works diligently to keep his audience in suspense and guessing what will happen next. Once the carnage escalates, Stanley rarely gives his audience a chance to breathe as he moves from one visceral terror to the next.
The family dynamic of the Gardners feels organic, which makes the film feel more grounded in reality as we watch the unit unravel as they succumb to the effects of the color. Much of this success can be attributed to the central cast. Cage employs his usual stock character of straight-type Dad quickly spiraling into madness at the first sign of trouble. Joely Richardson and Madeleine Arthur give great performances as a workaholic mother and edgy teenage daughter that bring life to their characters and anchor sympathy for the family unit. Brendan Meyer and Julian Hilliard do their best to work with the scant material and limited screen time they are offered, but ultimately give solid performances. While they do not craft overly compelling characters, they do good work to make their family sympathetic and real, which is all they needed to accomplish to make Color Out of Space work.
While Color Out of Space is a suspenseful and stomach-churning horror film, its true phantasmagorical glory lies in how well the filmmaking is executed. The cinematography is stunning. Shots effortlessly glide between dazzling colors and lights, lulling the audience into submission, before assaulting them with an arsenal of truly grotesque and frightening images. It is this exact combination of sensations that create a vibrant, pulsating horror experience. Scenes transition seamlessly with peanut butter smooth editing making the viewers feel like they are living inside the beautiful nightmare alongside the Gardner family. I am still awestruck at the sheer beauty captured onscreen by Color Out of Space.
Color Out of Space does sometimes get too muddled in its details, sacrificing some substance for style. While it is briefly surmised that the color is causing the characters to act irrationally or change their behavior, it is hard to see when this rule is being put into effect. Characters seem to come in and out of lucidity at convenience to the story, which is both understandable to a degree but also lazy in the same respect. Cage’s acting, in particular, comes across just a few shades too unhinged. Sometimes it feels inappropriate when Cage is clearly in the stratosphere and the actors around him are still on the ground. It does not happen too often, but enough to where it is noticeable.
A creative and disorienting journey into the unknown, Color Out of Space is the most interesting horror film released in 2020 thus far. While it is still early in the year I will be surprised if Color Out of Space misses out on my Top 10 list at the end of the year. Visually daring, Color Out of Space is an audacious effort of cosmic sci-fi horror.
Overall Score? 8/10