Color Out of Space

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Color Out of Space
dir Richard Stanley
scr Richard Stanley, Scarlett Amaris
prd Daniel Noah, Josh C Waller, Lisa Whalen, Elijah Wood
with Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Elliot Knight, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Tommy Chong, Q'orianka Kilcher, Josh C Waller, Melissa Nearman, Amanda Booth, Keith Harle
release US 24.Jan.20,
UK 28.Feb.20
19/Portugal 1h51

richardson arthur chong
london film fest

knight, cage and kilcher
Loosely based on HP Lovecraft's 1927 short story, this sci-fi horror has a superb everyday tone that director-cowriter Richard Stanley cleverly warps into bonkers body snatchers nastiness. Subtle effects and freak-out set-pieces put the audience increasingly on edge. So we're already off-balance by the time full-on craziness breaks out. And even if he kind of loses the plot, Stanley revels in pushing us over the edge.
Nathan and Theresa (Cage and Richardson) and their kids, teens Lavinia and Benny (Arthur and Meyer) and youngster Jack (Hilliard), live in a picturesque forest where they raise alpacas on their isolated family farm. When a smelly, brightly coloured meteor lands in front of the house, neither Mayor Tooma (Kilcher) nor visiting scientist Ward (Knight) know what to do. Then strange things start happening, from lapses of inexplicable behaviour to the appearance of vibrant bugs and slimy shower-drain creatures. Whatever this is also seems to be bending time and perception.
Stanley cleverly establishes this normal family with warm and witty interaction while adding underlying insinuation. Lavinia is introduced performing a pagan ritual to heal Theresa's cancer, interrupted by the rather fit Ward, who's surveying for a hydro project. Benny is a stoner who smokes with their squatter Ezra (Chong, amusingly typecast). The unravelling of sanity among these people (and their pets) is skilfully staged, even if the movie ultimately feels like style over substance.

Still, the grounded performances make this remarkably engaging, as each actor maintains an understated authenticity, even when they begin to lose their minds. As things progress, each actor brings additional personality to his or her role, playing up the comedy, energy, rivalry and the sense that something inexplicable is happening. Cage is of course an expert at this kind of performance, adding gonzo details on top of madcap quirks. And his terrific costars keep right up with him.

What makes this gripping is the way the characters poke each others' insecurities as the bizarre events unfold. So by the time the story evolves into a lurid pink nightmare, both with expert digital touches and some fabulously yucky practical effects, we're so invested that the horror is almost unbearably awful. And as for what happens to the alpacas, well that's only the beginning. Where this story goes is properly mind-bending, tipping over into hold-your-head-and-scream madness. The plot may get muddled along the way, but the film deserves a cult following.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 23.Feb.20

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