TIFF 2019: Colour Out of Space

Cult director Richard Stanley (Hardware) teams up with a typically frenzied Nicolas Cage for this HP Lovecraft adaptation and proves a solid addition to the cosmic horror sub-genre

Film Review by Katie Goh | 13 Sep 2019
Color Out of Space
Film title: Colour Out of Space
Director: Richard Stanley
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeline Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q’Orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong

Cosmic horror is notoriously hard to get right on film. John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness and The Thing are the best-known examples of the genre hybrid, and last year’s Annihilation is a recent example of cosmic horror done right. Combining body horror and extraterrestrial scares, the genre asks the big questions: what happens when our ideas of reality are shattered? What does that existential reckoning do to the human mind?

These are the questions being asked in Richard Stanley’s Colour Out of Space, an adaptation of the HP Lovecraft story. Set in rural Massachusetts, miles away from the nearest town with only a curious hermit in a nearby shack for a neighbour, Nathan (Nicolas Cage) is raising his family peacefully, growing tomatoes and attempting to farm alpacas. Theresa, his wife (Joely Richardson), is recovering from cancer and holed up in her office working despite the shoddy internet connection. Their kids – a young Wiccan, Livinia (Madeleine Arthur); pot-head Benny (Brendan Meyer); and little brother Jack (Julian Hilliard) – are left to their own devices.

The family’s peaceful existence is shaken when an asteroid hits their garden and a strange, pink-tinted colour descends upon their house. Plants begin to mutate and time starts to go astray. It turns out that something in the water is the problem, with Stanley making a not-so-subtle analogy to climate change. For the most part, Stanley isn’t interested in explicitly showing the cosmic horror on screen. Instead the film’s dread comes from cinematographer Steve Annis’ swirls of colour and composer Colin Stetson’s eerie synth score.

Colour Out of Space is at its best when Stanley goes for this subtle and intelligent filmmaking, gesturing at the horror rather than pushing it in our faces. The cast do a fine job, although Cage’s increasingly erratic frenzy of a performance misses the mark. He’s out of place in the latter half of the film which loses its enjoyable goofy charm and becomes self-serious in its existentialism. While Stanley stretches out the film for too long and better characterisation would create more of an emotional tie to the family, there’s great craft on display here, making Colour Out of Space a solid addition to the cosmic horror genre.

Colour Out of Space screened at Toronto International Film Festival