Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Movie Review: Color Out of Space

Color Out of Space *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Richard Stanley.
Written by: Scarlett Amaris and Richard Stanley based on the short story by H.P. Lovecraft.
Starring: Nicolas Cage (Nathan Gardner), Joely Richardson (Theresa), Madeleine Arthur (Lavinia), Elliot Knight (Ward), Tommy Chong (Ezra), Brendan Meyer (Benny), Julian Hilliard (Jack), Josh C. Waller (Sheriff Pierce), Q'orianka Kilcher (Mayor Tooma), Melissa Nearman (Reporter), Amanda Booth (Secretary), Keith Harle (Hunter Jake).
The pedigree for a cult movie is undeniable with Color Out of Space. It is an adaptation of a H.P. Lovecraft story, and even if Lovecraft stories usually don’t translate well to the screen, there is always the potential for them to become something indescribably weird. The film was directed by Richard Stanley – who is perhaps best known for getting fired a few days into filming The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) – which became a legendary debacle. And most of all, it stars Nicolas Cage in a role that allows him to go crazy, and talk about alpacas a lot. This isn’t quite Mandy of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans level insane late-period brilliance from Cage – but it’s a step above something like Mom and Dad, which is already several steps above the five or six direct-to-video action films Cage makes every year. So, basically, it’s in Dog Eat Dog territory – still something so twisted and weird that you cannot imagine another actor pulling it off at all, but not quite genius level. But like the movie itself, it sure is, well, something.
The movie is about the Gardner family, a city family who have recently moved to the country to take over the family farm. Nathan (Cage) was an artist, who now is going to farm and raise alpacas – the animal of the future – although it doesn’t seem like he really knows how to do that. His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is getting back into the swing of things after a mastectomy – trying to keep her real estate business going even with the spotty Wi-Fi. Teenagers Benny and Lavinia aren’t doing that well – Benny is constantly getting stoned, often with the weird squatter who lives on their land (Tommy Chong) and Lavinia is exploring Wicca, doing weird spells and trying to center herself. Then there is young Jack, who is pretty much left on his own. The family is pretty much going stir crazy even before anything weird happens.
It doesn’t take long for that weirdness to start though. It begins when the sky turns a strange pink, and a meteorite crashes onto the property. Slowly but surely, the family starts behaving in increasingly strange ways – Benny and Lavainia are the only two who seem to realize just how strange things are getting, but even they cannot stop themselves from being sucked into the strangeness. To say more would be to spoil the fun – but needless to say, things do get really, really weird, really blood, really twisted in ways that make you wish that Stanley hadn’t been fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau (seriously, he couldn’t have made anything worse).
It’s always a pleasure to see Cage in a film that can match his weirdness level. I’m not sure he has any real judgment left, or if he just keeps making so many movies that he’s going to occasionally hit on one that works with his crazy energy – but when he finds one, it’s a thing of beauty. Cage gets increasingly weird throughout the movie, in ways that make the already crazed narrative feel even less predictable than it otherwise would be. No one else in the film can match that level of weirdness – and they don’t even try, which is probably a good thing – Cage, and the narrative twists and turns are strange enough.
I won’t say where all of this leads, but I will say you could tell in was a Lovecraft story even if you didn’t know. For the most part, Lovecraft stories don’t work as films – hell, I just Re-Animator for the first time a few weeks ago, and I’m not convinced it worked, as it seemed to be four different movies mashed together, and I’m not convinced I want to watch any of them. But this one does. Stanley finds a way to visualize Lovecraft’s horror in ways that are both terrifying, and just plain weird. And Cage keeps everything engaging throughout. I don’t know if the movie adds up to anything other than its own weirdness – but its weirdness is so engaging, I’m not sure it needs to.

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