Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
Beware the Alpacalypse
This is Richard Stanley’s return to directing after a 20-year hiatus. Color Out of Space takes place in Arkham, Massachusetts where the Gardner family is attempting to live rurally while the family so desperately craves the city life they once had. Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) has invested everything in raising alpacas since they are, “the animals of the future.” His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is a cancer survivor that works from home as some kind of stockbroker or at least attempts to since their internet connection barely exists.
Their daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), is a full-on Wiccan performing rituals at every opportunity and dreaming of fast food the next. Their older son, Benny (Brendan Meyer), spends most of his time stoned out of his mind while researching black holes and palling around with the family dog Sam. And their younger son, Jack (Julian Hilliard), is pretty much a background decoration until the weird stuff starts to happen.
A meteorite crashes in the Gardner’s front lawn and changes everything. A hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) was already on the Gardner’s property researching their water supply before the meteorite hit and believes that the well on their property has been contaminated from the start. The meteorite is this glowing purple eyesore until it disappears overnight turning their crops into a luscious and vibrant otherworldly oasis while turning actual organisms like wildlife and humans into insane alien monsters. Oh, and Tommy Chong is there for some reason, as well.
I may be remembering this wrong, but I don’t think there was a voiceover at the beginning of the film when Color Out of Space screened at Fantastic Fest back in September of 2019. The film is based on the H. P. Lovecraft short story of the same name, so it’s probably a reading from a segment of Lovecraft’s original material. I kind of preferred the opening without a voiceover though since it’s just this dull quiet as the film showcases this beautiful forest kind of serenity the Gardners see every day. Or I’m remembering it wrong and I half slept through it or something.
The horror film is alluring in its own unsettling way. The colors of the film are alien in the sense that they don’t look or feel like anything we’ve ever seen on earth, but everything has this purple-pink kind of hue to it that comes off as extremely unique. Visually, The Gardner’s home is transformed into a more realistic and subtle version of Pandora from Avatar but with more purple praying mantises, leechy fake boobs, and lightning striking what looks like a glow in the dark peach pit embedded in the ground. How the meteor affects animals and humans results in these nightmarish fusions not unlike what you’d see in The Thing or From Beyond. The Gardners have access to a barn, an attic, and a well and these are the main places the monsters either dwell, are born, or feed.
Nicolas Cage gives an intriguing performance here, as well. He combines those unhinged outbursts you’ve come to expect from the Oscar-winning actor with these awkward caring dad moments and corny dad jokes. Nathan watching his appearance on the local news as he rambles about his love for bourbon as he’s unwillingly labeled a UFO enthusiast and complains about his hair is hilarious. Cage also has a Nicolas Cage level freak out in a parked car and violently abuses produce in a way only he can. As Nathan, Cage fluctuates from being a caring father and nurturing husband to this nasty soulless vessel that is a splitting image of his father. It’s almost as if he’s bipolar or schizophrenic, but Cage’s impression of his father sounds like a drastically exaggerated impersonation of Donald Trump that is somehow more vulgar.
The downside is Color Out of Space tends to drag a bit in its first half. The film moves at its own leisure and sometimes seeing people throw up or have their electronic devices go on the fritz isn’t all that exciting. The payoff is more than worth it, but that slow descent into madness is going to come off as boring to some.
The horror genre hasn’t been the same without Richard Stanley’s presence and, for the most part, Color Out of Space is a return to form. Color Out of Space is a brilliant, bonkers, and terrifying experience. This alien presence is basically resetting life on earth within the Gardner’s property where plant life thrives and organisms are smashed and combined together to make new creatures for a new undefined world. It’s grotesque and mesmerizing even if the journey is a little sluggish along the way.
© 2020 Chris Sawin