Characters created by H. P. Lovecraft tend to be driven irrevocably mad by incomprehensible cosmic knowledge. Nicolas Cage excels at portraying balls-to-the-wall insanity. Therefore, a marriage between the two should theoretically be a match made in R’lyeh. Indeed, for the most part, Richard Stanley’s recent adaptation of the author’s short story “The Colour Out of Space” manages to capture the best qualities of both artists—though, like a shambling, multi-limbed monstrosity from beyond the stars, the result of this unholy union is occasionally slightly… messy.
The director certainly brings an abundance of flavor to the material: the opening scene (stark, foreboding imagery of a cold, indifferent natural landscape accompanied by evocative voiceover narration) immediately establishes the remote setting and tense atmosphere, the explosive climax delivers a deliciously psychedelic assault on the senses, and there’s an ample supply of stomach-turning body horror in between. Unfortunately, he struggles with the more mundane human drama; with two notable exceptions (Elliot Knight’s understated performance brings charm and credibility to his somewhat thinly-written role; Joely Richardson, meanwhile, plays a sort of gender-flipped avatar of Lovercraft himself—a paranoid, reclusive shut-in living in constant fear of the corruptive influence of the outside world—with a surprising degree of authenticity), his protagonists are excessively quirky, cartoonish, and otherwise stereotypical, thus diluting the impact of the moment when the explicitly paranormal elements of the plot begin to invade the previously “ordinary” narrative.
In light of such a significant structural shortcoming, some viewers might be overly inclined to dismiss Color Out of Space as pure cinematic garbage. Well, one man’s trash is another’s treasure—and true genre connoisseurs will find plenty to cherish here. Featuring haunting visuals, stylish special effects (that succeed despite the film’s obvious budgetary limitations), and a rich thematic subtext (mostly revolving around the gradual erosion of identity, individuality, and free will), this unapologetically old-school midnight movie is an absolutely thrilling amusement park ride—and, unlike Martin Scorsese, I mean that as a compliment.