Does the idea of Nicolas Cage doing a low-key Trump impression while channeling his special brand of zany, over-the-top acting bravado make you giddy with excitement? Do you have a soft spot in your heart for practical creature effects in the vein of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)? Or how about Annihilation (2016)? Do you absolutely adore that movie and want to dive into a similarly beautiful, but nightmare-inducing world?
If you answered “yes” to any or all of those questions, then look no further than Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space (2020).
If the mere mention of Stanley’s name gave you pause, you’d have been right in doing so. He hasn’t made a feature film since he was fired from the ill-fated The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996); it’s a notorious box office bomb that failed due to the interference in every aspect of the film’s production by megalomaniacal stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. Following this heavily publicized disaster, Stanley’s self-imposed exile from Hollywood became the stuff of legend and a feature-length documentary—which I highly suggest—called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) was produced about it.
Prior to The Island of Dr. Moreau, however, Stanley was best known for making independent science fiction films like Hardware (1990). These movies were vivid, bold, and unsettling. Seriously, just check out this trailer. While some of his early action sequences were a little muddled and hard to follow, Stanley made captivating and visually stunning stories that thrilled art-house audiences. Because of this, Stanley remains a cult hero for most cinephiles.
With this in mind, it’s important to note that Color Out of Space exceeds Stanley’s earlier work and signals the triumphant return of an auteur director.
Based on a short story by horror legend H.P. Lovecraft, Color Out of Space follows Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) after he moves his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), his teenagers Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and Benny (Brenden Meyer), and youngest son Jack (Jullian Hilliard) to a remote farm for where they grow tomatoes and raise alpacas. After a comet smashes into their front yard, an ominous pink and purple color invades their property. Is it an alien? Something in the water? A Wiccan spell, cast by Lavinia, gone disastrously wrong? The Gardner family struggles to survive as they search for these answers, but they may be pushed to the brink of madness beforehand.
These days, when you see Nicolas Cage’s name on a movie poster, you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get. Admired as an A-List, Oscar-winning actor in the 90s, his career has degraded into direct-to-Redbox schlock. For every good film he makes like Mandy (2018), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018), and Mom and Dad (2017), there’s a slew of titles like Left Behind (2015) and Season of the Witch (2011) to remind you that the guy can’t say no to a bad movie.
In the age of naturalistic acting, Cage has become famous for delivering surrealistic performances that challenge the very notion of acting, but he’s at his best when he finds a blend of these two modes. You can see this balanced blend in career-defining films like Adaptation (2002), Raising Arizona (1987), and Leaving Las Vegas (1995). But in films like Face/Off (1997) and Vampire’s Kiss (1988), for instance, he goes too surreal. On the reverse, he pulls things back too far in movies like Bringing Out the Dead (1999) and Matchstick Men (2003). It’s about striking the right balance.
I’m happy to report that Cage is borderline brilliant in Color Out of Space. As the weird hue begins to dominate the family, Cage incorporates Trumpian speech patterns to denote and personify his madness. It’s both a subtle political message and a great acting choice. The blend is on point here. Keep doing work like this, Nic!
In the supporting role of doomsayer and land squatter Ezra, Tommy Chong stands out amongst a cast of solid performances. Chong lends his scenes an extra level of ease and it’s a refreshing break from the wall-to-wall tension of the story.
Also noteworthy is the work of cinematographer Steve Annis and composer Colin Stetson. Their work on this film is uniformly lush and it plays together in perfect harmony. Without a doubt, you won’t see or hear a more striking film in 2020.
Stanley plans on making a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations—the next is slated to be The Dunwich Horror—so please support this movie by seeing it in a theater. I know, adaptations and remakes are a dime a dozen these days, but when a good one comes along—from a guy who hasn’t made a feature film in over twenty years, no less—we should take note.
Special note: this movie may be best enjoyed while partaking in substances that may or may not be legal in your state or country. You’d be wise to phone up your “buddy.”