Lovecraftian. A word that often gets used to describe sci-fi/horror movies such as Alien and The Thing. Sometimes it’s overused though and I think that reflects our desire for more ACTUAL adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.
For whatever reason, Hollywood really does not seem to want to mine this rich resource of material. So, it’s not a surprise that the first faithful adaptation in a very long time of one of his stories arrives as an “indie” film albeit starring Nicolas Cage. I have no idea if a wider release is planned but as of now, it can be very difficult to track it down in most markets, but it is worth the effort as it is the very best movie version of Lovecraft to date. Color Out Od Space truly captures his themes of nameless cosmic terror. The plot largely follows the short story of the same name written in 1927.
The Gardner family is adjusting to farm life after a move from the city when a meteorite crashes onto their property. The meteorite contains a mysterious entity that manifests as an energy of a pinkish-purple color. This color begins mutating the plants and animals around the farm as well as causing mental deterioration in the Gardner family due to the poisoned well water.
The movie successfully brings Lovecraft’s short story set in the 1880s into modern times with minimal changes. The changes are mostly window dressing: name changes like Cage’s character Nathan Gardner formerly being Nahum Gardner, instead of 3 sons, he now has 2 sons and a daughter, and the old neighbor farmer Pierce is now played by Tommy Chong as a hippie survivalist that lives in the woods on the Gardner property.
The daughter Levinia played by Madeleine Arthur gives the standout performance and is really the co-lead along with Cage.
I can see why Cage was drawn to the project since it allows him to do his “thing”: a straight family man for the first half and then a slow descent into madness as his world and family fall apart around him. The movie does an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere and creeping dread of the short story. It becomes very intense in the last third as the Color consumes each member of the family in a different distressing way. This is where the movie really delivers its emotional impact as you can’t help but feel the sadness and anguish of the Gardners. Cage and Arthur both shine here.
Don’t look for a happy ending as the story didn’t have one either. It’s likely that had this been a major Hollywood production, the suits would’ve interfered and had at least one member of the family survive. Nope, not this time.
Despite its meager budget of a reported $6 million, it looks far more expensive than that. The FX are used sparingly as the budget would dictate but look great when they are whether practical or CGI. Director Richard Stanley’s experience with this type of movie serves him well here.
In many ways, I was reminded of his film Hardware while watching this. I really don’t have any major criticisms of this movie that aren’t budget-related. Like I’ve said, it maximizes what it has to work with. You could argue that the mutated creature designs are ripped from The Thing (1982) but in truth, Lovecraft’s story hints at creatures such as these so is it really stealing? Anyway, I’m a sucker for well-executed practical effects these days.
Lovecraft aficionados will love the various Easter eggs sprinkled throughout. The hydrologist/surveyor who serves as the narrator in the short story is wearing a “Miskatonic University” shirt. The town of Arkham is of course mentioned as well as Dunwich. There are others but I don’t want to spoil them all.
So, if you want a “Lovecraft Cinematic Universe”, seek this movie out and pay for it. It’s very well done and deserves to be a success.