TIFF 2019: Color out of Space (Richard Stanley, 2019, Portugal/USA)

            Color out of Space, Richard Stanley’s first feature in over 20 years, is an intense trip of a film.  Stanley manages to capture Lovecraft’s themes in a palpable way – the whole film is permeated with a sense of unease. But Stanley’s film is not merely an exercise in cult horror. The film is also beautifully shot, with psychedelic effects that recall 2018’s Annihilation. While the film is not perfect by any stretch, one has to appreciate the audacity of Stanley’s vision.
            The closest parallel one might draw to Coloris Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, a similar psychedelic and richly visual film about a descent into madness, anchored also by a batshit crazy Nicolas Cage performance. Cage is clearly a talented actor, and it is interesting to watch his career trajectory. While he has returned mostly to disposable direct-to-video action titles, his willingness to take any role has now also led him to the more challenging territory he was exploring earlier on in his career in films like Vampire’s Kiss and Wild at Heart. Nathan Gardner is a role Cage was born to play – there are few who can capture frenzied madness in such a vivid and often funny way. 
            That said, the film does have its flaws. At almost two hours, the film does feel too long. A tighter 90-minute cut would have done the film a great service.  Likewise, certain characters and plot aspects aren't very well-integrated into the story. Ward Phillips, our narrator and hydrologist who investigates the mysterious comet, drops out of the story for much of the film, only to return in a major way during the final act. Also, once we know that the Gardner family is doomed, their prolonged suffering becomes a bit boring at a certain point. One more complaint - some of the CGI effects are lackluster and distracting.
            Still there are many things to admire in Color. The practical effects – especially one involving a group of alpacas – recall golden age horrors such as John Carpenter’s The Thing – another Lovecraftian film which is a clear influence on Stanley’s latest. Overall, Color out of Space is a worthwhile descent into Lovecraftian madness.



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