Color Out of Space movie review: pink elephant

MaryAnn’s quick take: Body-horror SF via Lovecraftian grotesquerie, with a now tedious rampage from Nic Cage. As if a man needs to be influenced by unfathomable aliens to turn to violence. I need more from my pulp fiction.
I’m “biast” (pro): big science-fiction geek
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
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Yeah, no, it’s literally a color out of space — it had been hitching a lift on an asteroid, apparently — and it’s not “like any color I’d ever seen before,” says Nicolas Cage (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies), after the asteroid lands in the yard of his rural farmhouse one fateful night. Empty Lovecraftian grotesquerie will transpire, and it will be little more than an excuse for another now tediously ordinary rampage from Cage as the alien presence wreaks its havoc… which is probably all plenty of film fans need out of Color Out of Space.

I need more. I certainly don’t need a story that posits that a man needs to be influenced by unfathomable aliens out to take over our planet to do the things he does here. There’s absolutely nothing unearthly or even, alas, remotely unusual about a man turning to violence.

Color Out of Space Tommy Chong
Being stoned might be a requirement for enjoying this movie…

This latest from director Richard Stanley — perhaps best known for his 1990 cult favorite body-horror sci-fi Hardware — is another body-horror sci-fi, this one based on the H.P. Lovecraft story of the same name. (The director adapted it with coscreenwriter Scarlett Amaris.) Anyway, it’s pink. The color is pink. It’s not that strange, and it’s certainly not indescribable in that way that Lovecraft loved to not describe things: the horror was beyond imagining, etc. How do you depict a color that, according to the source material, is beyond human perception? You make it pink, it would seem. (I could go here: Do men not see pink? *argh*)

The difficulties of transferring Lovecraft to a visual medium when he was all about, at best, insisting that what he was writing about was outside human ken could have been completely sidestepped here: just don’t have Cage mention the weirdness of the color! But this is far from the only problem with Color, which seems to believe visual psychedelia is interesting in and of itself. It isn’t. Nor are what have long since become clichés of human reactions to alien encounters: odd smells, missing time, and so on. At this point, we’ve all seen The X-Files (and these things were already cliché in the 1990s… but that show did do fresh things with them). In the 21st century a new spin on Lovecraft is required… as in, say, 2018’s Annihilation, a clear and, indeed, avowed descendant of this very Lovecraft story, what with its alien life stealing a foothold on Earth.

Color Out of Space
“You still wake up sometimes, don’t you? You wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the llamas…”

And yet Color’s idea of a modern twist is the wife of Cage’s Nathan Gardner, Theresa (Joely Richardson: Red Sparrow, Snowden), complaining that the wifi isn’t working (it’s alien interference, natch). Their gradeschooler son, Jack (Julian Hilliard), makes “imaginary” friends with the alien presence; their teen kids Benny (Brendan Meyer: The Guest, Tooth Fairy) and Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur: Big Eyes) are hearing strange sounds and forgetting to do chores. Eerie! Not. When Ezra (Tommy Chong: Zootopia, McHale’s Navy), the stoner-hipper squatter(!) on their land, intones that it is “in the static, it’s in the moisture,” I laughed out loud: Someone finally made “lost” sci-fi “classic” Chubby Rain. And it’s as bad as Bowfinger led us to believe.

This is a movie in which someone says, “Looks like there’s a storm comin’ in,” and it’s impossible to tell whether that’s offered unironically or with a wink; in either case, it’s groan-inducing. If only Color had titled itself The Silence of the Llamas — the farmyard creatures Nathan has invested in, and which do not fare well when ET comes to town — I might have been impressed.

Nah, probably not.

first viewed during the 63rd BFI London Film Festival

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