The lovechild of Midsommar and 2018’s cult horror hit Mandy, writer Scarlett Amaris’s Color Out of Space brings HP Lovecraft back from the dead, without the eugenics this time. I didn’t know a movie could be this mind-blowing; I needed my mind blown first to be able to comprehend how blown my mind would be (GPG: 6/5).
Review by Contributing Editor Giorgi Plys-Garzotto
Nicolas Cage’s acting carries a primal intensity that has always captivated me. Whether he’s greeting his Wiccan teenage daughter on a normal day in his rural woodland home or desperately howling in pain as he and his family are warped in body and mind by a power they cannot understand, you can almost see Cage wrestling with the material of any scene he’s part of. With films like Vampire’s Kiss and National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets under his belt, he’s more than ready for HP Lovecraft’s material. And what material it is–Cage literally morphs into his own father as a mysterious meteorite and a contaminated water supply bends time and matter in his isolated Northeast community.
The beginning of Color Out of Space feels something like the start of an X-Files episode. Teenage Lavinia’s (Madeleine Arthur) ritual meant to cure her mother’s cancer is interrupted when Ward (Elliot Knight) stumbles upon her on his way to find a water sample to test for the state government. As Ward investigates the water supply, which is found to contain unknown substances, Lavinia and her family are drawn into conflict as Lavinia clashes with her mother Theresa (Joely Richardson), brothers (Brendan Meyer, Julian Hillard), and father Nathan (Nicolas Cage). A regular set of family troubles, intensified by Theresa’s breast cancer and their removal to a farmhouse populated mostly by Nathan’s prized alpacas, grows into a cosmic horror tale when director Richard Stanley adds in the deranging influence of a Deep One’s essence in the water supply.
The most captivating thing about Color Out of Space is the sheer whiplash between almost absurd or slapstick comedy and the most gruesome body horror I’ve seen in years. In one scene, a spaced-out Theresa chops off her own fingers while cooking and invites her family in to dinner without seeming to notice the blood gushing out of her; in the following scene Nicolas Cage screams at his son, “I want those alpacas in the barn by ten o’clock!” Cage in particular manages this about-face turn most easily out of the rest of the cast, since his acting style seems to work with both tones. The difference between a horror line read by Nicolas Cage and a comedy line read by Nicolas Cage is just the background music and lighting. Stanley has really gotten himself a man who can do both with this casting.
The script for this film’s mishmash of tones creates a film that puzzles even as it shocks. It hits all the classic horror beats of Ward coming repeatedly to the house and finding the family increasingly off; his repeated warnings about the water go unheeded as the family continue to drink glasses of it in ominous close-up shots. As the oldest son goes to check on the alpacas, who are making pained noises in the dark of night, we follow his flashlight beam along the barn wall until we see a split second of raw flesh straining and shrieking out of the depths of the alpaca stalls. In a later scene we are treated to the full spectacle teased in that sequence: the alpaca have all fused together, becoming amniotic and fetal-looking in a skinless morass of heads and hooves. This foreshadows an animalistic Theresa fusing with her youngest child and digesting him back into her own body, with his face remaining on her back like one of the tumors she so recently entered chemotherapy for.
The themes of cancer, pregnancy, and contamination make for a psychological horror subplot that derails our human conception of life, growth, and death. If metastasizing cancer is growth, if a baby is a tumor, if death is being reabsorbed by the universe that birthed you, then what does the fiction of human existence even mean? These are the kinds of thoughts stirred up by the influence of the extra-dimensional beings that we only glimpse directly for a split second in Color Out Of Space. In one of the film’s best CGI moments, a glimpse into Lavinia’s possessed eyes takes Ward flying into the realm of Cthulhu, over writhing piles of eldritch horrors. This is referred to as the Realm of the Third Eye, and as in the original Lovecraft stories it leaves Ward permanently traumatized from his glimpse into knowledge no human should possess.
As the sole survivor at the end of the movie, Ward is reduced to a grim, bearded version of himself, resolved never to drink the water that has been left running into every home in the area. The climate change angle is pretty obvious from this vantage point; humans are destroying the balance of natural life on Earth with their industry. Both the cancer caused by human chemical engineering and the fracturing of reality caused by the Deep Ones comes from a dislocation of the original order of nature. All I have to say is that if the climate change apocalypse is that wild, we’ll all be sorry we didn’t recycle!
All in all, this movie has not been done justice in this review–you have to go see it yourself. The newest entry into the genre of “psychedelic horror” that’s become in vogue the past year or two is more than worth the psychological scars.
Does Color Out of Space pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?
Yes! The mother and daughter characters in this film have conversations that revolve around their own relationship.
Top Photo: Lavinia possessed by the Deep One.
Middle Photo: Nathan trying to save the alpacas.
Bottom Photo: Lavinia about to make Ward look at Cthulhu’s domain.
Photo Credit: Spectrevision.