South African filmmaker Richard Stanley has had one of the most promising yet chaotic and fractured careers in film history. Having started off making short films, he got his first professional job directing music videos for various UK-based bands. Stanley debuted onto the scene with the 1990 post-apocalyptic film Hardware, which has become a cult classic despite mixed reviews. He followed this up with the 1992 horror film Dust Devil, which suffered from producers majorly reediting the film. Unfortunately, things only got worse with what was supposed to be his next film, 1996's The Island of Dr. Moreau. The film was a notorious behind-the-scenes nightmare, such that a documentary, Lost Soul, detailing the production was made in 2014. Following a twenty-plus year hiatus, it was announced that he would be returning to features with an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. 2019 saw the release of his comeback film, Color Out of Space.
Near the town of Arkham, the Gardener family has been living in a rural home with a farm. There are Nathan (Nicolas Cage), Theresa (Joely Richardson), and kids Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), Benny (Brendan Meyer), and Jack (Julian Hilliard). One night, a meteorite crashes near their home, and it starts emitting a strange color that is impossible to describe. Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), a local hydrologist, tries warning the Gardeners after discovering that their water is contaminated. Soon, strange things start occurring, such as space and time blurring, and animals and people mutating into horrifying creatures. While Lavinia and Benny want to leave the farm, Nathan is adamant about staying, slowly becoming more and more insane. As the cosmic force continues spreading around the area, the Gardeners are pulled together only to be torn apart. Can this force be stopped, and who will escape the Color Out of Space?
Given that this was from the producers behind Mandy, and starred Nicolas Cage, I was naturally excited about this film. Plus, the fact that this was Richard Stanley's long-awaited return and an H.P Lovecraft adaptation, this has some real potential. Thankfully, I'm happy to say that Color Out of Space doesn't disappoint and is as good as critics have said. While it may seem derivative of other films, Stanley works these tropes in a way that twists them around. The first act seems bland and flatly shot, but that's only to lure us into a false sense of security. Once the meteorite hits, Stanley makes great use of colors, mixing magentas, blues, and greens similar to Dario Argento's style. However, the way Stanley's style works, it perfectly offsets the seemingly normal look the film starts with. This is one of the most visually striking films I've seen in some time.
The cast is also terrific, with Nicolas Cage, in particular, delivering that crazy manic energy he's known for. Thankfully, given that this film deals with cosmic madness, his typical on-screen insanity is well warranted and fits perfectly. Joely Richardson also does a good job as the concerned wife, and Tommy Chong is fun in his small part. Also, the younger cast members give outstanding performances, particularly Madeleine Arthur and Elliot Knight, perfectly balancing off Cage's insanity. There are also some cool practical creature effects and gore that are reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing. Admittedly, while many of the CGI effects are pretty good, there are some that stick out in a bad way. That being said, this is still a fantastic film that shows the power and drive of independent filmmaking. Overall, Color Out of Space is one hell of a trip and a welcome return for Richard Stanley.