There are ambiguities and obscurities to H.P. Lovecraft stories that are best left unexplained. It’s a deep dive into forms of grotesque cosmic horror that the human mind can’t even begin to comprehend. And that is exactly why an adaptation of a written work of his deeply excited me. Add Nicholas Cage on top of it and I was completely on board. I was probably expecting something along the lines of Mandy meets Hereditary and I feel Richard Stanley wanted the movie to be that too. Unfortunately, it neither has the well-written family drama of Hereditary nor the visceral psychedelic feel of Mandy.
I feel terrible bashing the movie for its visuals because it’s obvious at a budget of $6million, the movie was highly constrained. But it’s hard to ignore that considering how important it is to the movie. There is some interesting use of color, most notably a darker and saturated shade of magenta which is a visual theme to the cinematography. It’s creepy and visually striking as lighting in the background. But anytime the shade is more than that, it just fails. There are scenes with this very color being used in monster designs practically and as well as in some CGI where it holds no effect whatsoever. All it does is make me feel sympathetic towards the budget of the film. But I also feel this is where the job of a filmmaker is most important; understanding the most you can squeeze from the available resources. Robert Eggers, for instance, did an excellent job in The Lighthouse (at a budget of $4million) which also had Lovecraftian themes and extremely haunting supernatural visual imagery.
The family drama feels superficial and is within a plot rushing to get this family into a traumatic situation. The movie never earns the tension because we just simply don’t care enough about them until we get there. Their characteristics make no real difference to the story and they end up feeling irrelevant. Characters are also, at times, forced to commit to actions that would be convenient to the plot rather than something that would make logical sense. And sometimes, they don’t even convey the right emotions, considering what another human would feel in similar situations. The performances, however, are decent across all members with even maniacal moments in times of horror feeling believable. Unfortunately, Nicholas Cage being ludicrous, although entertaining, has no levity because the trauma he’s going through feels completely rushed. The actors would’ve probably done an amazing job with a better script and this was a big missed opportunity. Probably a bigger sin than the wonky CGI.
To give some credit to Richard Stanley, there are some great horror elements in the movie. Jump scares are not overused, and the movie gives the audience time to absorb the surreal. Without spoiling anything, some praise goes to a creature/monster design around a set-piece just before the final act of the movie begins. But other than that, Color out of Space is an ineffective attempt at adapting Lovecraftian horror but an even weaker attempt at using family drama as a setting. The aesthetics would have benefited from lesser monetary constraints but that certainly doesn’t excuse it from poor writing.
Read more about Richard Stanley talking about the movie here.