My blogger buddy photog over at Orion’s Cold Fire I are both publishing our reviews of The Color Out of Space simultaneously. You can read his screed against this cinematic butchering of the Lovecraft story here: https://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2021/06/14/color-out-of-space-2019-a-science-fiction-and-fantasy-movie-review/
A few weeks ago, my blogger buddy photog over at Orion’s Cold Fire wrote a brief blog post comparing Nicolas Cage to William Shatner. In it, he announced that Nicolas Cage starred in an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, “The Colour Out of Space.”
Naturally, I immediately went to RedBox and (with a coupon code, of course) and rented The Color Out of Space on-demand. As a fan of Lovecraft’s weird tales and Nicolas Cage’s weird acting, I had to see this film.
Unfortunately, there is too much of a good thing, and too much Cage turns bad very quickly. Nicolas Cage is infamous for his hysterical overacting, and there isn’t a scene left unchewed in Color. Cage’s style is typically unhinged, which one would think would work well for a film in which a failed farmer slowly goes mad as his family, livestock, and crops are overtaken by a mysterious alien force—the titular color—but he manages to go so overboard, it comes across as unrealistic and forced.
It’s like the uncanny valley: at a certain point, robots, animatronics, etc., are so realistic, they’re unsettling. The viewer can tell that something is off, despite the enhanced realism. In Color, Cage gets so crazy it loses its impact; instead of creating the unsettled feeling one gets around a raving derelict at a late-night bus stop, one gets the unsettled feeling of seeing a robot trying to be life-like. It’s an unsettling portrayal, to be sure, but not in the way the filmmakers intended.
The plot is similar to the Lovecraft story, though the characters are insufferable. Besides Cage’s hamming it up, his on-screen daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) is one of the least sympathetic characters ever set to film. The film opens with her performing some kind of bogus Wiccan ritual, which includes her wishing to be far away from her idyllic New England farmhouse. The ritual is interrupted by a hydrologist (Elliott Knight), who the film clumsily attempts to make Lavinia’s love interest. While the hydrologist looks to be around eighteen—itself quite ludicrous, as I imagine hydrology requires some manner of four-year civil engineering degree—it’s absolutely bizarre that the scriptwriters attempt to pair him with a brooding, fifteen-year old Goth chick.
Regardless, Lavinia is excessively annoying, and while the film attempts to cast her as something of a heroine, her constant complaining about her life is so overdone and so cartoonishly teenaged, she loses whatever shred of sympathy the audience might have had for her.
Cage’s filmic wife, portrayed by Joely Richardson, is also a bit much, though she is one of the more realistic characters. Suffering from breast cancer, she struggles to maintain a high-stakes job that involves her being online constantly. Due to the farm’s poor Internet connection (a real problem in rural areas), she begins losing clients in droves; coupled with her husband’s ill-conceived llama raising scheme, the family’s financial strain is quite real. The presence of an alien color on the farm doesn’t help matters.
Where the movie shines is in the gory depictions of the Color’s impact on the farm. One of the most disturbing scenes reveals the mother fused with her youngest son (Julian Hilliard), a consequence of an irradiated blast from the Color, which is residing deep in the family’s well. Cage’s character locks Lavinia in the attic with this horrible hybrid of wife-and-son, but Cage, the hydrologist, and the Sheriff break in to save Lavinia before her mutated, fused family members can devour her—much to the audience’s chagrin.
The second half of the film is fairly psychedelic, and even with the crazy visuals, begins to drag considerably.
I really should have enjoyed this movie, and I was quite eager to watch it. For the $4 I spent to rent it, it was not worth the price of admission; rented on DVD with a $1.25 off coupon, however, would be worth the price of admission for a diehard Lovecraft fan.
Many reviews and commentary I’ve read claim that Lovecraft’s works are unfilmable. I think that’s a cop-out. I don’t doubt that his oeuvre is uniquely challenging to adapt to film, but surely a competent director could make an honest effort at it. The visuals in Color Out of Space are quite well done; all it needs now is some improved storytelling, better acting, and more sympathetic characters.