There’s been a Nic Cage film screening at Fantastic Fest for the last four years, and this year’s selection, Color Out of Space, has an amazing pedigree. Firstly, it’s Richard Stanley’s first feature in twenty-three years, since his firing from The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1996. The daring documentary of said incident, The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, actually screened at Fantastic Fest back in 2014. Secondly Color is also an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation produced by Elijah Wood’s production company SpectreVision, and needless to say with films like Dust Devil and Hardware, I was very excited to check out his return to narrative features.
Color is the Lovecraftian tale of Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) who, after his wife was diagnosed with cancer, relocated his family from New York to his deceased father’s rural New England farm. One night a strange glowing meteor crashes into his front lawn, and something begins to seep into the soil, contaminating it and the water supply. If you’re familiar with the work of Lovecraft you know what to expect here as the entire family is either driven mad or horribly disfigured by the magenta hued force unleased by the fallen object’s radiation. It’s a return to form for Stanley who shows he hasn’t lost a beat with his updated take on the story that here not only tackles the otherworldly as you’d probably expect, but it interestingly touches on this family’s story as they deal with the possible loss of the matriarch.
There are, of course, the expected Nic Cage freak outs and character flourishes coupled with Stanley’s ethereal atmosphere. My favorite of these is the subplot with Nathan and his pack of Alpacas, that inspires an intense monologue about the art of milking an alpaca. That aside, it’s how Stanley is careful not to let Cage go too far that gives his ultimate freak-out the gravitas it deserves. I should probably warn you, if you’re checking Color out simply for Cage being unhinged, that isn’t quite the case here as Cage seems to be putting forth a genuine effort to act in the first half of the film. The rest of the cast does well, especially holding their own against Cage, with Madeleine Arthur stealing the show as Nathan’s “witchy” daughter Lavinia Gardner, who really adds some real dimension to the goth daughter film trope.
Color Out of Space is a slow controlled descent into madness that enraptures the viewer with its nihilistic glow. Stanley works well within the confines of his budget to tell an ambitious story that feels almost like he never stepped away from behind the camera, encapsulating the rage and desolation of his time away. Color will please fans of Stanley’s more cerebral approach to genre, while still packing in the tropes and Nic Cage freak outs that your run of the mill horror fans will flock to thanks to the mainstream success of Mandy. I really dug Color, and feel like it’s a strong start that will hopefully develop into more cinematic output to come for Richard Stanley.