Saturday, November 28, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Color Out Of Space

The Color Out Of Space
directed by Richard Stanley

This sci-fi/horror movie is an adaptation of the 1927  H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name (color is spelled "colour").  It was one of Lovecraft's finest works. A Lovecraft weakness was to use florid, antediluvian adjectives to describe his settings while being paradoxically unable or unwilling to describe the monsters themselves. In the short story however, and fortunately enough in this film adaptation an alleged shortcoming was turned into a strength. 
The protagonists struggle to describe something that is beyond human experience and perception. That seems impossible. If something falls into our visible spectrum we can see and describe it. So in that aspect there is no such thing as a color we haven't seen before--a description used by many people in this story. 
But what if something has the ability to move in and out of the human visible spectrum or perhaps its very presence temporarily or permanently alters the human visible spectrum?
Would we lack the vocabulary to detail what we saw? Hmm. In this story Lovecraft anticipated radiation poisoning and described it quite vividly. Lovecraft may have been influenced by the Radium Girls scandal, which occurred during his lifetime. The film wisely uses part of a famous Lovecraft quote from the story which sets the stage for the spooky events. 
West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) is a hydrologist (and in this film the Black man does not die first) who is surveying some Massachusetts land for a proposed dam development. Ward encounters Lavinia Gardner (Madeleine Arthur), who was attempting a ritual to heal her mother. According to Lavinia, Ward's unwanted presence ruins the ritual. Lavinia also informs Ward that he's on private property. Nevertheless Lavinia likes Ward's looks; Ward certainly notices Lavinia's moves.

Lavinia still lives with her family, new farmer father Nathan (Nicholas Cage), stockbroker mother Theresa (Joely Richardson) who is recovering from breast cancer, and brothers Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). Nathan is a former yuppie who inherited the farm from his estranged father. Nathan intends to make a living selling alpaca wool and milk among other things. 
Nathan's also deeply in love with Theresa, who is a little put off by the farm's iffy internet access and the resulting problems it causes her business. Still Theresa appreciates the extra work Nathan has put into taking care of the children during her sickness and recovery as well as his display of continued physical desire for her. In fact, it's one night while Nathan and Theresa are showing each other bliss that something bad happens.
A meteorite which glows purple, violet and blue lands in the front yard, interrupting Nathan and Theresa's private time and scaring the stuff out of Jack.  
The next morning Ward, the mayor and sheriff all arrive to view the cooling and shrinking meteorite. Ward doesn't like the thing's looks. Ward tests the family's groundwater and finds some abnormalities. He advises the family and the paranoid hippie squatter on their property, Ezra (Tommy Chong) not to drink the water. When the television news crew arrives, the meteorite has vanished. 
The farm's residents undergo shocking transformations and hallucinations. The farm's fauna and flora gradually and ominously change. Cage has become infamous for his characters' over the top crazy rants but they work here. The special effects improve the movie instead of taking the viewer out of it. This movie was among the better Lovecraft adaptations I've seen.  
It's difficult to visually capture something that is supposed to be indescribable but this film came as close as possible.  
Not everything is explained, nor should it be. Just as in real life this story reminds us that there are unknowns in the universe. The film runs a little long and flirts with some generic horror tropes near the end but all in all this was good stuff. If you are curious about or interested in the cosmic dread in which Lovecraft specialized, you could do worse than to watch this film.
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