A glowing purple meteorite makes life, uh, difficult and gross for an isolated farm family after it crashes in their yard in the new film Color Out of Space. Because the family's patriarch is played by human-TNT hybrid Nicolas Cage and the director is Richard Stanley—who hasn't made a narrative feature since 1996's The Island of Doctor Moreau went so ass-over-teakettle that a whole documentary is devoted to its disaster-ness—you might not expect Color to be an exercise in subtlety. It is not a movie encumbered by "good taste" and does not feel like it was ever brought up in a boardroom full of suits who wanted to make sure it would "play for all demographics" in "all markets."
Yet Color's first half, before everything succumbs to glorious madness while Nic Cage does what we pay him to do, is a surprisingly effective look at a family trying to keep things together.
WHY AREN'T THERE MORE LOVECRAFT MOVIES?
Part of the challenge of adapting H.P. Lovecraft into a feature-length film is that he doesn't write about people doing things. His "protagonists," if we can even call them that, are often featureless men with bland names passively observing an eldritch, blasphemous, squamous, cyclopean horror that is too evil to fully describe (say "eldritch," "blasphemous," "squamous," and "cyclopean" out loud—don't they feel great in your mouth?). His characters are not driven by desires or choices so much as they are survivor-witnesses to the unnameable. We can't imagine any of them having hobbies or wearing sweatpants. It's hard to make movies about things "just happening" to people.
(One exception is the trashterpiece Reanimator, based on Lovecraft's schlock Frankenstein-knockoff, "Herbert West, Reanimator"—what a gloriously clunky title—which is one of the few times Lovecraft creates an actual protagonist who affects the world around him.)
This new film is based on the short story "The Colour Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), whose short stories often feature rural families becoming isolated, inbred, degenerate, or cannibals. Oh, or turning into fish-people. In Stanley's film, the family's isolation is more emotional than physical. Mom (Joely Richardson) is a workaholic recovering from a mastectomy. The daughter (Madeleine Arthur) dabbles in the occult. The teenage son (Brendan Meyer) smokes doobies behind the barn. And the younger son (Julian Hilliard) eventually makes friends with a disembodied voice coming out of the well. See, America, this is what happens when your town doesn't have a nearby Blockbuster.
Meanwhile, Dad (Cage) insists that everything is going to be fine, just fine. More than 30 years have passed since Moonstruck and Raising Arizona so, at this point, Cage is a known quantity. You know you're going to get a variation of his pathetic-yet-relatable persona, this time as a guy who thinks he can will his family into contentment with enough forced smiles. And then the meteorite gets in their water, Dad bizarrely overshares with a local TV reporter, and the family's unresolved issues become something more gruesome…
Like so many first-rate B-horror movies, the supernatural seems to have a vague, can't-quite-put-your-finger-on-it thematic connection to its characters' existing issues. Is the supernatural a manifestation of the family's troubled id? Are the cosmos punishing Mom and Dad for their unresolved animosity? Would this have happened if Dad was actually good at farming? The relationship between the family's problems and the horror that gradually unfolds isn't 1:1, but it wouldn't happen to a healthy family either.