Color Out of Space (Richard Stanley, US) — Midnight Madness

By Adam Nayman

The stories of H.P. Lovecraft teem and crawl with terrifyingly malleable creations, yet paradoxically resist cinematic adaptation; more than most weird tales, they exist to be beheld in the mind’s eye. Richard Stanley’s go at Lovecraft’s 1927 chestnut “The Color Out of Space” eschews the original’s turn-of-the-century setting and repertorial framing device in favour of a family narrative. Living out in the forest with his wife and three kids, Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) watches helplessly as a pink-hued meteorite crash-lands on his property and infects both land and clan with a disease that gradually and agonizingly reconfigures them in the image of the rock’s alien homeworld; what occurs from there is less a war of the worlds than a parable of colonization, with the Gardners ending up as just so much collateral damage.

Directing a feature film for the first time in nearly 25 years, Stanley clearly relishes the opportunity to visualize various strange and grotesque encounters, and the judicious mix of CGI and ’80s-era Carpenter-style practical effects (including a writhing, many-headed mutation straight out of The Thing) works splendidly. What’s less assured is the tone, which could generously be described as “elastic”—with humour and horror very much existing on the same continuum—but strikes one more precisely as desperate, unable to commit to either full-on gross-out comedy or apocalyptic melancholy. The one thing it’s not is scary, and while that’s a fully subjective measurement, any impending cult status will be thanks to Cage’s insane line readings rather than an authentically Lovecaftian atmosphere or ethos.