Fantastic Fest 2019: ‘Color Out Of Space’ is a Vibrant Sci-Fi Nightmare

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Color Out of space

Color Out of Space is a vivid nightmare written and directed by Richard Stanley, based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name. In Color Out of Space, Stanley beautifully blends science fiction and body horror, balancing out the heavy sci-fi plot with grizzly imagery that pushes you back in your seat, making you question whether you’re going to avert your eyes or lean in closer. Set in the fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts, Color Out of Space focuses on the Gardner family, a seemingly idyllic family with problems bubbling under the surface.

We’re first introduced to the daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur). Goth, struggling, and irreverent, she is the proverbial teenage girl, but with a belief in witchcraft and magic added in. Then there is the eldest son, Benny (Brendan Meyer). He is an irresponsible pothead to his sister and the man of the house to his parents. He offers balance to the family dynamic. Finally, to round out the Gardner children, there is Jack, a curious young boy with an affinity for dinosaurs and a sensitive nature. In the children, who carry the bulk of the film’s story, Stanley maps out the family and sets the stage for their relationships to each other, their emotions, and their distinctive personalities.

For the parents, we see a couple utterly in love. As Nathan, Cage gives a performance that is immediately believable. He is an awkward and loving father who doesn’t say the right thing but tries to out of fear of becoming his own father. With Teresa (Joely Richardson), we see a woman recovering from cancer, working from home, and hovering over her children for their safety.

The Gardner family feels whole, realistic, and loving. Then, the meteorite hits. The rock crashes into their lives and lands in a bright blast of color, hypnotizing and pulling the Gardners into the thralls of madness and desperation. What follows is a slow descent into a neon-fevered nightmare. This descent is slow and steady as the meteorite begins to slowly poison the existing life around it, changing it and making something new.

Color Out of space

As the world around them becomes strange, morphing into something pulled from Astroneer, the Garner family begins to change with it. Some get sick, some get paranoid, and as the world warps their sense of time and identity do too. It isn’t just them being affected by the beautiful light, but the animals too. They go mad, they turn inside out, they change. It’s gruesome to watch. The practical effects in Color Out of Space are as beautiful as its neon lighting. When Stanley merges bodies with each other or shows skin being carved, the visual impact is made more intense by the excellent sound design. Skin squishing, collapsing bodies gurgling, it’s all unnerving and makes your stomach shift even when the imagery is out of frame.

Color Out of Space’s visuals are beautiful and add Stanley’s signature style to a story that has been around since 1927. That said, it’s the performances that make the film more than an acid trip. Cage’s descent into madness is terrifying and perfect, as can be expected, but it’s Arthur as Levinia who steals the show. Her performance is raw and vulnerable in a way that no one in the cast matches. She’s scared, and while she’s been warning everyone, her family’s refusal only fuels her fear as their options for escaping the alien power dwindle down to none. To her father, she just wants drama, to her brothers, she’s just being weird again, and its Levinia’s slow resignation to her fate that hits hard.

Color Out of space

Outside of the Gardners, Ward (Elliot Knight), a hydrologist monitoring Arkham’s water table to make sure a new infrastructure project doesn’t alter it, serves as the narrator. While he gives the introduction and outro of the film, he is also thrust into the story as a witness to it all. He lies just outside the scope of being able to help, making him a wonderful way to work in the source material’s narrator.

Ultimately, I have little to no gripes with the story or execution of the film. Stanley has updated a Lovecraftian story for our time and does so by expertly knowing when to show us the horrors and when to leave it to our imagination. Stanley holds the fear off-screen and uses the characters’ experience of it to drive the more unsettling moments in the film.

The success of this adaptation lies in Stanley’s ability to bring the essence of the short story to film, bringing confusion and infatuation with a color that has never been seen before. By choosing an adaptation that isn’t the traditional Old Ones that are the go-to in this current trend of Lovecraft video games and comics, Stanley brings a different perspective to what Lovecraftian truly means outside of green, the sea, and gods.

RLJE Films has not released a distribution date as of yet.

Color Out of Space
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

The success of this adaptation lies in Stanley’s ability to bring the essence of the short story to film, bringing confusion and infatuation with a color that has never been seen before. By choosing an adaptation that isn’t the traditional Old Ones that are the go-to in this current trend of Lovecraft video games and comics, Stanley brings a different perspective to what Lovecraftian truly means outside of green, the sea, and gods.