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.

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.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018) (SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop .

That’s what people call necromancer’s weather.

The Changes (1975) This adaptation of Peter Dickinson’s novel trilogy carries a degree of cult nostalgia cachet due to it being one of those more “adult” 1970s children’s serials (see also The Children of the Stones , The Owl Service ). I was too young to see it on its initial screening – or at any rate, too young to remember it – but it’s easy to see why it lingered in the minds of those who did. Well, the first episode, anyway. Not for nothing is The Changes seen as a precursor to The Survivors in the rural apocalypse sub-genre – see also the decidedly nastier No Blade of Grass – as following a fairly gripping opener, it drifts off into the realm of plodding travelogue.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.