Color Out of Space

Do you ever get the feeling that you watched a completely different film to everybody else? This is the experience I’ve had with Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story of the same name. Whilst everyone around me has been showering this film with no shortage of praise, I emerged from my viewing in a deep state of shock. Having seen Tammy and the T-Rex at Monster Fest only the day before, I had erroneously believed that I had already gotten the worst film of the festival out of the way, and was looking forward to what I had hoped would be the best. Little did I know…

Color Out of Space is not simply “bad”, it is outright awful – a catastrophe that is categorically terrible across almost every department. The only way in which I can conceive that people actually enjoyed it is as an experience so disjointedly bizarre that it transcends all boundaries of taste, challenging the conception that entertainment relies on quality, as defenders of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, Exorcist II: The Heretic or, indeed, Tammy and the T-Rex would have you believe. There would be some merit to this argument – films “so bad they’re good” are inherently fun to watch and can lift a mood, often by eliciting laughs at the expense of the production in question. Strangely, I haven’t seen too many reactions to Color Out of Space that are taking this angle, and this surprises me.

The source material is one of Lovecraft’s best short stories – a meteor strike on rural farmland acting as an extraterrestrial harbinger of indescribable cosmic doom. His rendering is so effective because it allows the imagination of the reader to do much of the heavy lifting, the actualization of the indescribable colors and unutterable terrors of the tale limited only by our own inventiveness. Richard Stanley’s adaptation, as it must, seeks to give form to the formless, but the end result is one that is not only underwhelming, but is almost unpalatable. According to IMDb, the visual effects team employed on the film was 38 people strong, but there is a distinct lack of artistry in the digital work put up on screen. The titular color does not dazzle as it should, the hazy shades of filtered pinks and purples in no danger of inspiring the requisite amount of awe. The practical work fairs slightly better, but the workmanship is undercut by the ridiculousness that surrounds it.

Here are a few descriptors I’ve seen thrown around to describe what transpires in the film: off-kilter, batshit crazy, mad, wacky, insane, etc. … My personal view is that, in this instance, these are rather generous ways of saying “the shit be stupid dumb”, because it most certainly is. I have to imagine that part of the enjoyment that many seem to have had must be related to the experience of watching proceedings so profoundly silly unfold in real time before your very eyes – it is an avalanche of absurdity that becomes all-encompassing. It is enough to cast doubt in my mind as to who is most to blame for the travesty that was The Island of Dr. Moreau.

The casting of Nicolas Cage feels cynically purposeful, a facetious acknowledgement of an already foregone conclusion – the project lacked the resources, if not the talent, to deliver an earnest and honest take on the source material. Instead, the tone of the film is affixed to the eccentric personality of its star, and this is its biggest downfall. Having said that, the responsibility is not on his shoulders alone. Cage is a substance abuser, and performance is the drug. All the talk of breaking forms, expressionism and transformative nouveau shamanism – he’s built up a tolerance, and only the hard stuff will do. The habit is not only enabled, but encouraged. The shame belongs to all of us. 

Colin Stetson’s score is magnificent, but out of place; the rich and colourful textures he provides are unable to find synthesis with the cheap and tactless on-screen shenanigans. This disharmony is indicative of another of Color Out of Space’s chief issues – it is at war with itself. It tries to do much, but not a single component manages to gel. Competing threads are meshed together, and perspectives shifted seemingly at random, resulting in a calamitous clash of ideas that is as much a monstrosity as anything seen on screen. If I was to give the film some credit, I’d suggest that this may have been its intent, but the only proof I could offer would be the cacophonous culminating moments – an audacious 2 minutes of pure sensory overload that acts as a supernova, pulling the preceding 100 minutes into its center before collapsing in on itself.

It’s the strength of this moment alone that does give me pause before delivering a final verdict. Can a single momentary flash of brilliance make up for all the disorder that surrounds it? Perhaps, but in the end I needed more to convince me it wasn’t just a happy accident in the middle of a car crash. The truth can only be one of two things: Color Out of Space is either a deeply subversive work of genius or one of the worst films to come out this year. I think you know which side of the fence I’m sitting on.

D-

D- Fangoria X Monster Fest Review

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