Richard Stanley is one of the most mistreated directors manhandled by the Hollywood system in film history
His early successes with Hardware and Dust Devil demonstrated that he’s a director with an eye for striking atmosphere, creative practical effects, and crafting creatures that look dilapidated and foreign yet tangible and grounded. However, his experiences working on the tumultuous 1996 production of The Island of Doctor Moreau (all documented in the 2014 documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau) seemingly ended this promising talent’s career before it could truly bloom. Thankfully, hope has arisen in the form of 2020’s Color Out of Space, an adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story The Colour Out of Space. Richard Stanley and H.P. Lovecraft were made for each other, and having Nicolas Cage in the lead is the icing on the cake. Lovecraft stories have been adapted in the past (most successfully with Re-Animator and Dagon) but rarely with this scope and understanding of how his writing is genuinely horrifying. Stanley captured Lovecraft’s raw cosmic horror, and I loved every single second of it.
The story is about the Gardner family, who live in the middle of the woods near Arkham, Massachusetts, as they recently moved from the city. One night, a meteor crashes in their yard, emitting a strange light, unrecognizable on our color spectrum. Over time, the Gardner family starts acting strangely, turning on each other, feeling sickly, or in a daze. Weird foliage blossoms, the water turns fowl, the TVs and phones burst with static, and the strange light never goes away, enveloping the Gardner family’s home. Time itself seems to shift between speeding up and slowing down. It’s almost as if reality itself is tainted with a plague.
Richard Stanley never lost his touch for building atmosphere, and his skills are top form in this film. The tranquil early scenes establishing the family’s happy and relieved life lulled me into an early calm, thanks as well to the performances by Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson, who play the husband and wife. The two have great chemistry together, and you believe they are just coming off of some tough times, happy to live their lives together to the fullest. These early scenes amplify the tragedy of the story to come. Stanley’s cinematography and production design morph their tranquil domicile into a world of madness, as their lives are invaded by an unknowable force. The flowers, water, and even sound all feel other-worldly, as nature itself gets corrupted. Even the editing in places seems to change in a way to enhance how wrong everything feels. My eyes were glued to the screen every second to witness this family’s life slowly fall apart.
While the performances all around were great, Nicolas Cage was the clear standout. His descent into insanity felt natural, as he would effortlessly shift between caring husband and father to a madman. His outbursts were reminiscent of his performance in Vampire’s Kiss, which, while distracting at times, actually did feel in place with the insanity going on around him. He was the only actor who could do this character justice, and it’s fantastic that Nicolas Cage gets to add this film to his already colorful uvre. Tommy Chong’s brief appearance as Ezra, the hippy who lives by the family’s house, is also memorable, as his performance builds on the unnerving atmosphere, reinforcing how the earth itself feels wrong.
Color Out of Space is a film that makes you feel powerless. The fear in this film isn’t just the body horror; it’s that there is genuinely nothing you could do to stop this plague from infesting your home and your mind. The more you try and understand what’s happening, the more horrified you feel when you get your answers. Stanley captured the horror that comes from being attacked and manipulated by forces foreign to your imagination. This theme of trying to overcome powerlessness and oppression has been trending the last few years through films like Mandy and Nightingale. Still, Color Out of Space‘s unique production design, atmosphere, and tone lend itself its own identity. This film is breathtaking, jaw-dropping, and horrifying, as it starts 2020 off for a potentially excellent year of horror.
Color Out of Space will be released to theaters Friday, January 24th.