Richard Stanley’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space was one of the most anticipated things in Lovecraftian fandom for quite a while before it was released. The film only had a limited theatrical release, which in a way ramped up the anticipation. Well, it’s been out for home video for a few months now. I originally did a couple reviews for other outlets after my initial viewing of the film. I wanted to put enough time between that screening and the second one so that I could come to the film with somewhat fresh eyes for a new review. Well, I have to say at the start that as much as I liked the movie the first time around, it really came to life in new ways the second time around. This is a cinematic gift that keeps on giving.
I know that some people have felt that this film took too many liberties with the source material. I have to wonder how those people felt about Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft films because this is much more faithful than those were. In my opinion, Stanley took the basic concept of the story and brought it into the modern day. He brought in more characterization, and gave us some subplots that provided some twists. Those things made the film more impactful to modern audiences.
One thing that bothered me the first time around were a couple of the performances. I felt that Q’orianka Kilcher’s performance seemed wooden. I realize that I owe here an apology. With so much to take in with a film like this, I missed the bit of back-story between her character (the Mayor of Arkham) and Nicolas Cage’s Nathan Gardner. With that piece of the puzzle in place, I realize that it was her attitude toward Gardner that was causing her to have a flat, unenthusiastic reaction to the events.
Cage was another actor whose performance did a bit less than impress first time around. There are moments in the film where Gardner channel’s his father. I felt first time I saw the movie that those were over-acted and felt just a bit too strange. Second time around, I realized that the first time he did it he was making fun of his father, essentially a caricature. The rest of the times it reflected his descent into madness. For that reason, I definitely feel I was too harsh on the performance on my first viewing.
Lovecraft’s story tells a tale of an area ravaged by a meteor that struck it. Of course, it wasn’t actually the meteor strike itself that did the majority of the damage. Instead, something alive within that meteor altered the very fabric of reality of everything in touched. Animals and people mutated into monstrosities. Crops grew larger than normal, but were not edible. All of those things are part of the film. On a side note, I find it interesting that Lovecraft (who was an American who fancied himself a displaced Brit) used the British spelling The Colour Out of Space, while Stanley (who is South African) used the American spelling Color Out of Space. I have to wonder if that was an intentional nod to the absurdity of Lovecraft’s choice. I guess I should rephrase that and explain that I, too, have been often bitten by the bug of using British spellings. For years I always added the “u” in words that Americans typically spell with “or.” In fact, I have a song I did titled “Colour.”
I noticed on the second viewing that there is a lot of symbolism in the film that I missed the first time. One interesting reference is that the hydrologist (who in Lovecraft’s story was a surveyor and essentially the narrator of the story and serves a similar – but altered role here) is reading a copy of The Willows by Algernon Blackwood. That tale was highly regarded by Lovecraft, and I would argue an influence to some degree on The Colour... It tells a tale of a pair of travelers trapped in the wilderness which comes to life and attacks them. There are some things later in the movie that really seem to play off of that concept quite a bit, while staying true to true source material at the same time.
There seems to be a theme about parenthood to the film. I make that out with Cage’s transition into his father and something more blatant (that I won’t spoil) regarding the mother of the family and the youngest child. So far I haven’t figured out all of that theme, but I bet that the more times I see the movie, the more evidence I’ll discover. Lovecraft’s tome of legend, The Necronomicon is present in the movie, but it’s the most mass market cheesy edition, and despite one of the characters using it to try to protect them, it is shown to be useless. I am pretty sure that’s a commentary on the uselessness of man-made religions on the face of real threats.
There seems to be some sort a symbol involving triangles, but I can’t figure it out. There are at least two places where there is a prominent triangle. The first is a conspicuous hair adornment in the first scene, and the second is a window in the attic (a room which is important both in the original story and the film). Water (and particularly contamination of water) is another important theme in the film. In an early version of my video review I mentioned that it could be taken as an environmental commentary, but that didn’t make my final review because of time edits. On the second viewing I have to say that I should have left it in. I’m not sure if Lovecraft intended an environmental meaning to the story, but that angle was always there in a way. I am more convinced that Stanley intended it.
I’m sure that there is probably more symbolism that I’ve missed here. And, it should be noted that since this film is the first in what is to be a trilogy (Dunwich Horror is next) some of the themes and symbols might actually be better fleshed out in later films.
I would also like to point out something that was apparent from the first viewing. This movie is beautiful. From the strange colors that emerge to the sounds, everything about this is spectacular. They did a great job of capturing a suitably otherworldly vibe. And, the idea of something that is both beautiful and deadly is presented well.
This is a frightening film, but it’s also a piece of art. My admiration for the movie (which was already high) grew from the first viewing to the second. I have to guess that it will continue to grow in subsequent views. I’d have to say that this gets my pick for best movie of the year – but I’m not sure what year that was. It sort of debuted in 2019, but got wider release in 2020. Maybe I’ll put it there for both years. You can bet I’m looking forward to the next installment in the trilogy. Gary Hill