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‘Color Out of Space’ is a psychedelic horror trip you won’t want to end

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Color Out of Space

FilmScene—Chauncey — Friday-Saturday, Jan. 24-25 at 9 p.m.

‘Color Out of Space’ — video still

On Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. each night, FilmScene at the Chauncey will show a special screening of Richard Stanley’s newest feature film, Color Out of Space (2019), starring Nicholas Cage and Joely Richardson. The film is an adaptation of a 1927 H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name.

Color Out of Space follows a family of five who have absconded to a remote wooded area in Massachusetts where the garden is fecund and the company is few. Nicholas Cage plays Nathan Gardner, the patriarch of the household, whose character channels Jack Nicholson’s bristling violence and absurdist humor from The Shining (1980).

Cage’s portrayal of Nathan is on par with his earlier, unnerving performances, such as in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) as Sailor Ripley. Both performances are of men who could crack under the slightest pressure. While Nathan takes care of the garden, livestock and cooking, his wife Theresa works away in the attic, chatting on conference calls about “ratio strategies” while dinner on the table grows cold.

There’s some obvious familial tension. Their oldest son smokes pot, their daughter Lavinia practices amateur witchcraft and it’s soon revealed that Nathan and Theresa haven’t had sex in over six months. There’s no one for miles around, save a squatter on the property, Ezra (Tommy Chong), who serves as a hippie harbinger. The plethora of surveillance cameras surrounding his makeshift one-room house suggests a need to keep our eyes open at all times to anything that might go awry. And quite quickly, it does.

‘Color Out of Space’ — video still

One night, Nathan and Theresa seem to be rekindling their sexual spark when a fuchsia light suddenly envelops the room and a tumultuous crash rocks the house. The whole family pours into the yard to discover what looks like a meteorite that’s concaved the grassy lawn. Within the first 20 minutes of the film the Barney-pink catalyst has been set in place that will disrupt and disintegrate this family, their home and their sanity.

Mid-way through the film, a hydraulics specialist named Ward speaks to Ezra about all the strange occurrences that have been taking place on the property since that fated night. “I’m sure it’ll make more sense in the morning,” Ward reassures Ezra.

‘Color Out of Space’ — video still

Clearly Ward’s never read an H.P. Lovecraft story.

Things turn threatening really fast. While chopping carrots, in an expertly paced, suspenseful scene, Theresa chops off two fingers, holding up her mangled hand as she announces, “dinner’s ready!” The scene recalls the mother senselessly chopping vegetables in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), as if lobotomized in her incredulity that her daughter would go to prom.

Nathan rushes Theresa to the hospital, leaving their children at home to fend for themselves. But the television is all static. The cell phone signals are scrambled. Time is incongruous, no longer adhering to linearity or logic. Something sinister is brewing, and it’s soon a silent night: a deadly night.

For fans of FilmScene’s weekly Grindhouse series or Bijou Film Board’s AfterHours, Color Out of Space is a film that you won’t want to miss on the big screen. It’s a film indebted to the classic monster movies of the early 1980s and 1990s like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and In the Mouth of Madness (1995), as well as to more recent supernatural, gross-out horror films such as Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s The Void (2016). The use of steady zooms and the soundtrack (like a synthesized wail), all work to disquiet the audience as the narrative becomes progressively stranger and stranger.

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Though Stanley is heavily citational in his references to horror and sci-fi films of years past, Color Out of Space is its own wild cornucopia of weird Lovecraftian concoctions and domestic disturbances.


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