The best Nicolas Cage films in recent years know how to capitalize on Cage’s insane energy. When you cast Cage, you know what you’re getting. Mom and Dad and especially Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy knew how to harness the madness for the sake of the wild stories they’re telling. When it comes to Color Out of Space, a loose adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, directed by Richard Stanley, who hasn’t made a narrative film since 1996 and was fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau, it’s hard to imagine any other actor but Cage fitting into this odd combination.
Cage is Nathan Gardner, whose family has just moved into the rural farmhouse formerly owned by his father. Nathan is still struggling to fit into this world of daily alpaca milkings and spotty Internet. His wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson) is still trying to get back to normal after beating cancer, while his daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) plays around with Wiccan ceremonies. The other two children are more poorly defined, with Benny’s (Brendan Meyer) main characteristic being that he likes to get high and look at star maps, while Jack (Julian Hilliard) is essentially the weird kid in the horror film that hears the monsters coming first.
One night, a fluorescent meteorite crashes in their front yard and things start getting expectedly unusual. The meteorite is struck by several lighting bolts, the animals start acting different, and otherworldly-colored flowers start sprouting around the yard. When time, space, and living creatures start mutating, the Gardners are stuck dealing with the repercussions of whatever this meteorite has brought to them.
At times, Color Out of Space almost feels like it was made for Cage. It’s a story that allows Cage to fly back-and-forth between undefinable accents and yell at a group of alpacas. Stanley finds a way to harness another peak Cage performance into a story where his unhinged nature is essential to the tale at hand. Not to be outdone, Richardson is central to the film’s crazier aspects, and matches Cage’s intensity and strangeness.
Aesthetically, Color Out of Space is as if Cosmatos remade Annihilation, and Colin Stetson’s unsettling score plays up the creepy nature of what’s going on at this farm, even if the score can be overbearing at times. Despite being a lower-budget film, Stanley’s direction never makes it feel away. With blaring neon and eerie darkness, thanks to cinematographer Steve Annis, Stanley never makes this production look cheap or cheesy. Even when the horrors are understandably hilarious, Stanley makes these monstrosities look and feel real.
In an attempt to make Color Out of Space more than just a brightly-colored horror tale, the script, co-written by Stanley with Scarlett Amaris, tries to flesh out this story and characters with some deeper ideas. It’s hard not to ignore the larger environmental issues Stanley is touching on, especially when the Gardner family goes to visit a hippie squatter played by Tommy Chong. But additions like Theresa’s cancer and hints at a reservoir project by the town’s mayor don’t go anywhere. Color Out of Space does add dimension to its story when it focuses on the ideas of family, such as this group sticking together, despite what happens in their hellish front yard, or the idea of following in family’s footsteps, no matter how hard you try to escape, go down smoothly.
Yet all these attempts to expand this story into something more than just a wild monster film wash away when the film goes full-force and embraces its absurdity. Color Out of Space is certainly one of the craziest and ridiculous films that will come out this year. It’s only slightly disappointing that Stanley’s plans to fill in these characters and this world outside of alien monsters didn’t pan out. But sometimes, all you really need is Nicolas Cage screaming at some mutated alpacas.