Studio: RLJE Films
Director: Richard Stanley
Writer: Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
Producer: Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Lisa Whalen, Elijah Wood
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Josh C. Waller, Q¡¯orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong
Strange events plague a Massachusetts family after an unusual meteorite crashes on their remote farm.
Horror movies have several hard and fast rules that are guaranteed to result in terror or tragedy if they are ever broken. For example, never use magic to resurrect a dead loved one. Never f*ck with a house built on an ancient Indian burial ground. And never, ever touch a meteorite that crash-lands from outer space.
Just ask Jordy Verrill about that last one. Alternatively, you could ask The Gardner Family of Arkham, Massachusetts.
In between random cutaways to alpacas outside in their barn, shots of alpacas being milked, sudden discussions about alpacas, and other indulgences in an unusual obsession with, you guessed it: alpacas, opening scenes in ¡°Color Out of Space¡± overextend our thorough introduction to The Gardners. Quietly quirky patriarch Nathan (Nicolas Cage) leads the farming family. Suffering from cancer in a B-story of only minor import (a trait shared by all of the movie¡¯s underdeveloped asides), Nathan¡¯s wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) maintains modernity by running an online stock trading business out of their humble country home.
Daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) takes misfit teen fascination with witchcraft to new levels by performing private pagan rituals pulled from the Necronomicon (the Simon paperback, for some reason). Her stoner brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) spends so much time puffing pot, he can barely be counted on to tend to his alpaca wrangling duties (seriously, these animals feature almost as much as the meteorite miasma). Nathan and Theresa¡¯s youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard from ¡°The Haunting of Hill House¡±) brings up the back end as the primary person for regularly falling into color-induced trances.
Topping off the low octane fuel tank of moderately charming but mostly casual personalities are Tommy Chong as eccentric squatter Ezra and Elliot Knight as hydrologist Ward Phillips. Ward¡¯s assignment to assess local groundwater conditions leads to a little flirting when he meets Lavinia in the woods. Their potential romance withers as fast as every other subplot thanks to a script whose sunlight shines only on an overall macabre mood instead of on narratives. A sheriff and a mayor are also included, although the latter fulfills such little function, you¡¯re liable to forget she exists.
After all of that exposition, an oddly illuminated space rock burns a big hole in the farm¡¯s front yard. ¡°Strange¡± soon starts describing the family¡¯s transformative behavior along with surrounding events that gradually turn everyone¡¯s lives inside out. That essentially sums up ¡°Color Out of Space.¡± Expectations for a substantial story should be dialed down to nil. But if you¡¯re intrigued by repeated sequences of people becoming mesmerized by colored lights, this film will fill your thermos to overflowing with scene after scene of someone staring into a disco dystopia.
My initial notes on ¡°Color Out of Space¡± leaned toward simply calling it ¡°weird.¡± That¡¯s not really the most accurate descriptor for the movie¡¯s style though. I don¡¯t want to imply that it¡¯s David Lynch-like, overly interpretive, heavy on arthouse aesthetics, or even hypnotic necessarily. I don¡¯t think it¡¯s quite bizarre enough to be any of those things.
¡°Unusual¡± fits better. ¡°Color Out of Space¡± is a film that is merely ¡°off¡± in its own unique way, which shouldn¡¯t be a revelation for anyone intimate with the work of co-writer/director Richard Stanley, his headlining star, or projects produced under the Spectrevision label.
For instance, dialogue is oddly written. When authorities question Nathan about the meteorite¡¯s landing, he begins by recounting inessential details from that evening, mentioning how he and his wife were having sex for the first time in six months. Why does he specify this? For the comedic value perhaps. ¡°Color Out of Space¡± definitely has a sense of humor that intentionally streaks it with vague camp value. But factor in this kind of comment with all that alpaca talk and you¡¯ll start to sniff Stanley¡¯s strange nose for what askew content he deems critical to conversations.
Whether we¡¯re talking about a shot of Nathan selecting a wine bottle from the basement or sudden inserts of Benny¡¯s water glass, you¡¯ll constantly cock an eyebrow at quizzical creative choices without consciously realizing why. Again, everything seems somewhat sideways in a manner that might make the movie look roughshod if not for the fact that professional talents presumably knew what they were doing, even if the audience does not.
On the other hand, you will consciously recognize weirdness with unfortunately annoying audio design. Screeching squeals that sound like delivery trucks with bad brakes (I live on a hill where I hear this sound daily ¨C and paused the movie in more than one place to be sure the noise wasn¡¯t coming from outside) perpetually permeate the soundtrack. The omnipresent aural assault clearly means to be discomforting, although it¡¯s just as likely to make you reach for a handful of Excedrin.
I may have mentioned elsewhere that I¡¯m not someone who ¡°gets¡± the ironic entertainment appeal of Nicolas Cage doing one of his trademark turns into a live-action cartoon. Yet I understand that people seem to enjoy watching him hammily yell about bees or whatever. Should you belong to that contingent that gets giddy at Nic Cage doing Nic Cage shtick, then the last half of the movie at least gives up the goods when the Oscar winner channels some kind of indeterminate accent to Hulk out with an even crazier incarnation of his character. It¡¯s a goofy gag that further rattles ¡°Color Out of Space¡± on already wobbly rails. But I suppose that floats the boats of those who want to see Stanley plus Cage equal wild, even though that W should be turned upside down when referencing the movie¡¯s weirdness.
Personally, I prefer solid storytelling over oblique atmosphere, or at least some acceptable balance between the two. ¡°Color Out of Space¡¯s¡± ratio decidedly favors the latter. A richer plot with panache to complement cool creatures and psychedelic CGI might have left a longer lasting impression. ¡°Color Out of Space¡± settles for being a fleeting fantasy founded on fussy family dynamics and ambling dreaminess instead of being truly rooted in high stakes cosmic horror.
Review Score: 55