Nicolas Cage is a bit like Keanu Reeves. Both have endured unfettered decades of being top-shelf memes (even before they were called memes), yes, but they also are incredibly precise tools. Just putting them in a cast doesn’t do much for either the movie or the actor; you have to know how to use their extremely particular aspects.
For Reeves, it’s all about using his naturally subdued and vacant persona to reflect the audience back at them. (I say this with love, of course.) This is how the barebones narrative of the John Wick series works and the archetype-ridden world of The Matrix could feel at all compelling. For Cage, it’s all about finding someone as unhinged as him.
Cage, for all the absolute tosh he’s been in, has never not committed fully to a role. Hence why that little bit part he played in a direct-to-video movie went viral last year. And you need a director that can harness this feral energy. This is how Werner Herzog can make Cage opposite an iguana compelling and Panos Cosmatos can make a two-hour kick to the brain feel good.
This is all a long-winded way of saying when it comes to putting Cage in the lead for an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, you’d be hardpressed to do better than Richard Stanley. His calling card is Hardware, a bonkers low-budget horror film that is perhaps best known to most people as being the punchline to a joke in The Office. But if you watch that (now a cult classic) and then come to Color Out of Space, you’ll notice that his wild sensibilities haven’t dulled one bit, and that’s a good thing.
Maybe that’s more a sign of compatibility with Elijah Wood’s production company SpectreVision’s dedication to the anachronistic cosmic horror oeuvre than anything else; the opening scene of a Wiccan ceremony feels extremely Mandy. And that indulgent, over-the-top visual aesthetic becomes something of a necessity when it comes to Lovecraft adaptations. His stories thrive on leaving all the horror just at the fingertips of the reader, never quite walking you directly into the horror but certainly up to it and asking you to, just maybe, reach out to it.
As you can imagine, that doesn’t work for cinema, an incredibly sensory-dependent medium. And the problem is compounded here in this particular story. A strange meteorite crashes into a New England farm, and as its influence spreads across plants and animals and eventually people, they begin to exhibit this unseeable color from outer space. (Hence the title.)
Stanley smartly just dodges this conundrum altogether and just puts it all on the screen. As this alien thing starts to fuse together everything it touches into grotesque objects of misfortune, it creates this beautiful but sickening miasma of pink and purple. It provides an incredibly stark contrast with the early half the film, where we solidly settle into a quaint rural life of the Gardner family.
While we begin with recovering artist Nathan (Cage) just dealing with relatively sedate family drama, the slow creep of this brightly colored invasion doesn’t smother any of it but instead amplifies it. The wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) refusal to give up on her old stock trader life turns into an obsession. The daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) amps up her Wiccan proclivities and the son Benny (Brendan Meyer) goes full space cadet. But most vividly, Nathan loses his grasp on his dedication to the farm life.
This might be the most obvious and indulgent patriarchal Cage since Mom and Dad. His swings from tender to manic are as hair-trigger as they’ve ever been. From a completely surreal affinity for alpacas to a next-level meltdown crammed into the cab of a pickup truck, this is a tremendous refinement of the Cage experience.
It feels like Stanley directed Cage knowing just how much pent-up rage he had from all those years following his Hollywood blacklisting from being booted off the set of the 1996 The Island of Dr. Moreau. Watching this film feels like watching a pressure cooker hit a critical failure. It’s normal operation until it catastrophically isn’t, and Stanley hits you with the full force of 20 years of repressed insanity. It’s a contest between Cage and Stanley to see who can scream louder and more wildly into the colorful abyss.
Surprisingly, we never lose sight of the humans of this story. Their experiences through all this are always in frame, even as our eyes sear themselves shut from the raw otherworldly heat radiating off the screen, right before we willingly and hungrily rip them open again. This, a clearly low-budget operation, has a few missteps, but for a rabid, awesomely terrifying film, there’s not much more you can ask for.
Final Score: 8 out of 10