Movies are no longer for everyone. They haven’t been for a very long time. In the space of thirty six hours I watched the new Downton Abbey movie at the matinee in Lubbock, and then the midnight showing of Color Out of Space at the Fantastic Fest genre movie festival in Austin the next day. Believe me, the two films are not designed for the same audiences, though I enjoyed both. The very fact that that Color Out of Space had its U.S. premier at the largest “genre movie” festival in America emphasizes the point, and the reason I say this at the beginning of my review is because I don’t want some people going to Color Out of Space thinking that it is Downton Abbey… and that says something about audiences today.
Disclaimer #1: I received free tickets to the showing from one of the Executive Producers, Stacy Jorgensen who works with SpectreVision, which produced the film. I was not paid (or even asked) to do a review.
Disclaimer #2: Stacy Jorgensen is producing the film that is based on my novel Pennsylvania, which is absolutely NOTHING like Color Out of Space, is not in the same genre, and has a totally different director and production team.
Disclaimer #3: I am a plain person with plain sensibilities. I wore my plain (Amish-like) clothes to the premier. I am capable of appreciating all kinds of art, even stuff I may not personally choose as my favorite. I can appreciate a well-plowed row just as I can appreciate the artistry and lines of a Rolls Royce, though I would never own a Rolls Royce. It’s a strange thing to hear in the world today, but you can appreciate the artistry of things you don’t personally like.
Disclaimer #4: If I didn’t like the film I’d say so, and everyone who knows me knows that.
Ok, we got that over with…
Color Out of Space (or as my wife kept calling it “Colorado Space”) is a cosmic horror film that combines three stalwart cult fan aesthetics into one mind-blowing picture. As the cheerleader movie guy shouted before the film started “We got H.P. Lovecraft!” (*shouts and applause,) “We got Richard Stanley!” (*shouts and applause,) “and we got Nic Cage!” (*biggest shouts and applause.)
Cult-film director Richard Stanley had not made a feature length movie since he was abused and fired (and harassed out of Hollywood) while attempting to make The Island of Dr. Moreau twenty years ago. That event became so famous that they have made movies about the making of that movie. Of course none of it was Richard Stanley’s fault, but as they say in Texas “that’s how baseball go.” That’s definitely how Hollywood goes.
Lovecraft fans have bemoaning the lack of a truly Lovecraftian adaptation of his works for years.
Then, of course, there is Nic Cage. One of my favorite actors and one of the most misunderstood artists in Hollywood. He has his own cult following and it is well deserved.
The point is, don’t go to a cult-hit cosmic horror flick designed for midnight audiences with the perfect concoction of cult-hit ingredients if you don’t want your senses assaulted by light, color, sound, and Nic Cage. As for me, I don’t like cosmic horror or having my senses assaulted, but I truly loved this movie. So forget everything I said before. Go watch it… then hate it or love it, I don’t care.
Let me begin my review (proper) by repeating what my friend author Steve Statham said after watching the film with us. “This is NOT a B-movie. It is too wonderfully filmed and constructed for that. It is an art film. It is beautiful and visually stunning.” Steve wrote one of the best alien short stories I’ve ever read (Perfect Capture) and I’d love to see that story made by the same team who made Color Out of Space.
This movie is one of the most beautifully shot, visually masterful movies I’ve ever seen. During the relatively placid first act of the movie I was completely floored by how beautiful the camera work and cinematography is. That portion of the film is more Dances With Wolves than cosmic horror freakshow. And it really drags you in. Some time is spent establishing the characters and their particular issues. Nic Cage is portrayed as a mostly sane loving father and husband trying to make a go at being an alpaca farmer. One of his children is a witch, and another one is a stoner. The third young child is there for other reasons I won’t divulge, but for the most part they are a loving family. Oh, and you heard that right. Nic Cage is an alpaca farmer. You already want to see this don’t you? If you don’t want to see Nicolas Cage milking an alpaca (and drinking the milk warm straight from the animal) and you don’t want to see Nicolas Cage singing the praises of the future of alpaca meat, do you really love movies? Oh, and not for nothin’ but there is a hydrologist in the movie who is trying to do a study on the water quality in the area. He’s kind of important later in the film.
The second act establishes the inciting incident – a meteor crashes into the front yard and stuff starts to go weird. And here is where we begin to encounter the genius of Nic Cage. Now, I’ve read a ton of the reviews from this film, and maybe… I don’t know… 95% of them are glowing. A handful of idiot critics who understand nothing and only spew (usually wrong) popular myths as facts, will tell you that Nic Cage is just an oddball who can’t act who goes “full Nic Cage” and people are laughing AT him and not with him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cage’s decisions in this film are on purpose. They are decisions. They are planned. And they are hilarious and they achieve their desired results. When the whole audience laughs at a line (then applauds at the end of the movie,) this is not a happy accident. This is not The Room. When the mayor and the sheriff show up to ogle the meteor and Cage shouts “Time to milk the alpacas!” that line was planned and is delivered perfectly in order to draw the laughter from the whole audience that it inevitably receives. You are in the presence of an artist even if you are too dumb to realize it.
Without giving any spoilers, the third act is just batshit crazy. Full-on crazy. You know its coming when each of the family members begins experiencing the weirdness in their own way, and the surrealistic and psychedelic colors become a main character in the film. Cage descends into absolute madness, and it is wonderful to behold. What happens to the alpacas is worth the price of admission (even if I’d paid to get in.) The gooey-gross body horror will satisfy the cosmic horror people in the crowd. The rest is a full-on assault on your senses and your grasp on reality.
And here’s the deal… it’s not supposed to “make sense” in the traditional understanding of that phrase. That’s the Lovecraftian part of it. I’ve always had a problem with alien contact stories where there is an assumption that contact with alien “stuff” (even if it is unexplained) would be purely rational according to our understanding of science and story structure. Lovecraft understood that any such alien contact might result in something beyond our capacity to understand it linearly. THAT’S THE POINT. I want to scream at that tiny percentage of ivory tower critics that this is a cosmic horror picture with Nic Cage that is Lovecraft and Richard Stanley and you are watching it at midnight at a genre film festival surrounded by goths and people with face tattoos and three inch wide ear implants and Doc Brown haircuts and wearing cravats who just drank the bar at Alamo Drafthouse dry. What were you expecting? Why are you even here?
My conclusion is that Color Out of Space is a work of art. It’s not for everyone, just like weird cubist-era Picasso is not for everyone. Some people who love Vermeer do not like Picasso, but some people like both, and both can be considered truly great artists even if you personally don’t like one of them. If you like something new and different that is designed for a very specific audience demographic even if you are not in that demographic, go watch it when it comes to theaters. If you don’t think its for you, then don’t go watch it. Viva la difference.