Skip to main content

It’s just a colour that burns.

Color Out of Space
(2019)

(SPOILERS) Richard Stanley returns to features after 27 years (without a finished one) and gives us a Lovecraftian horror, his first of three planned adaptations. Responses have been generous, but I quickly found Color Out of Space teetering on the brink of the tedium that comes with escalating horror chaos devoid of suspense or turns of plot. We know what is happening here – madness unbound, physical, mental, psychic – and we’ve seen Cage’s brand of unbound lunacy more than enough times already. Add to that a picture heavily indebted to John Carpenter’s The Thing by way of gross-out familial descent into hell, and there’s something oddly pedestrian about the whole affair, despite it being clear that, in his time out, Stanley has lost none of his flair as a director.

That said, Color Out of Space is a reminder that, for all his acclaim as an unjustly-shat-on auteur, Stanley is essentially a shlock merchant. It’s writ large in Hardware, and it’s there in Dust Devil’s less-polished aspects. Stanley wants to gross you out, just in less overtly geeky way than a James Gunn or a Robert Rodriguez. Because he also wants to indulge his passion for occultism and any other obsessive compulsion he can weave into the mix.

You can see that in the trajectory of daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), introduced performing a ritual both to fix her mother’s cancer (Theresa, played by Joely Richardson, has undergone a double mastectomy) and get out of her boring rural idyll. The triangle is front and centre – or behind; it’s on Lavinia’s hair clasp, it’s the shape of the attic window Theresa uses for her work space – here. Traditionally, it’s a symbol of the higher path, per the apex. But there’s doubt over Lavinia’s purity of motive. She can be a bit of a brat, and while she states that she never performs curses, brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) is less certain, suggesting the arrival of the meteor is a “result of your little ritual”. Plus, she likes burgers: “I know it’s mechanically retrieved, but it tastes like heaven”.

The suggestion that Lavinia may in some way be responsible for the resultant disintegration of her family – literally and psychologically – reaches its thematic conclusion when she gives up trying to escape and informs hydrologist Ward (Elliot Knight) that she belongs there. Stanley, as a self-confessed dabbler in such arts, incantations and indeed curses, is likely well aware of the consequences of such actions, just as he is doubtless drawing on the loss of his mother in the depiction of Theresa. Of course, there’s far more in the mix, with Nathan (Cage) going expectedly looney tunes – “Dad took too much acid back in the hippy days”, substances doubtless being another Stanley touchstone – and the very unpleasant fusing of Theresa and youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard). And that’s without the alpaca homage to The Thing.

The thing is, though, none of this is especially affecting. It’s frequently gross and grotesque, and there’s the occasional genuine shock value moment – Theresa cutting her fingers off – but Stanley makes the mistake of thinking one can simply pile on tumult and torment and expect to sustain narrative tension. Any engagement with the picture leaks away with the increasingly CG-infused light show accompanying the escalation of excess.

All this carnage wreaked on body and soul – although, we must be careful of the latter, given Lovecraft’s professed atheism – is fully in keeping with the author’s ethos and his’s 1927 short story. Which may explain the positive notices. That, or welcoming Stanley in from the wilderness. Rejecting the world within, Lovecraft’s terror comes from without, the stars, making him one of science-fiction literature’s forefathers. Albeit, irretrievably bound up with the horror/occult genre.

Lovecraft’s destructive force arrives from space and is inimical to human existence; this is a nihilistic, materialist vision of isolated and impinged-upon fragile corporeality, one that straddles Stanley insertions, such as allopathic definitions of disease, atomic terror (“It’s probably a nuclear strike”), escape through self-medication (the “imaginatively” cast Tommy Chong’s Ezra) and the microscopic, invasive force (“They came on the rock… It’s in the static. It’s in the moisture. Up is down. Fast is slow. What’s in here is out there, and what’s out there is in here now. Comprendo?”)

This basic concept has been used elsewhere, of course. Die, Monster, Die! (1965) was a direct adaptation. The recent Annihilation (2018) riffed on Lovecraft – as well as Tarkovsky – to underwhelming effect. And Creepshow (1982) found Stephen King undergoing a similar transformation, albeit more chlorophyllic in The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrrill, an adaptation of his short story Weeds. Itself heavily influenced by Color Out of Space. And then there’s Evolution (2001), probably the most maligned of the lot, but probably the most watchable, in which David Duchovny has to deal with the effects of a meteorite landing in Arizona. All conform, by and large, to standard meteor theory.

The best parts of Color Out of Space are probably Arthur and Meyer’s performances, since you’re actually interested in what happens to them up to a certain point (namely, when the former begins etching symbols on herself with a Stanley knife, and the latter decides to rescue their dog from the well, the one it isn’t in). Knight is a complete non-presence, unfortunate since he’s the hand-holding character (as the survivor/narrator).

Cage… I like Cage in the right material, but my response here was similar to Mandy. The whole of Color Out of Space is too much, which means Cage being too much, trying for Clark Griswald on ketamine, exacerbates the problem. I’m pleased for Stanley that he’s working again, but I’m not sure he should be spending his resumed career exclusively making Lovecraft movies (he wants to do The Dunwich Horror next). Either way, best of luck to him, if we all survive the real Lovecraftian apocalypse.


Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.