COLOR OUT OF SPACE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Don’t drink the water, says Tony.

The Colour Out Of Space first saw life as a short story by famed master of creepy, screamy, tentacle-waving leviathan horror, HP Lovecraft.

Since then, it’s been adapted a few times in various formats, because in its essence it’s such a terrifyingly straightforward, bleak, nuclear-option horror premise.

A meteorite arrives from space, giving off a colour. That’s it – a simple colour, although the colour’s outside the human visual spectrum. It taints whatever it touches, and it sinks into the soil. Time passes, and the life of a rural Boston farmer goes on as normal – his fruit yield is huge the next year. Huge, but inedible. The colour, the poison, is in the water table, and has been for some time. Everything that needs water to survive will be tainted.

And everything needs water to survive. Plants. Insects. Animals. People. Everything.

It’s almost like a kind of sci-fi bio-horror version of The Shining – although Stephen King claims his novel The Tommyknockers was more directly based on the Lovecraft original.

Here’s a challenge – imagine a sci-fi bio-horror version of The Shining.

Add Nicholas Cage in full-on Nicholas Cage mode.

While you’re at it, just to dial the wildness up to 11, add Tommy Chong as a stoner squatting in a cabin, dispensing occasional bon mots.

Now you’ve got yourself a party.

The new movie version, written and directed by Richard Stanley, sticks more closely to the original source material than some previous versions, with Cage’s Nathan Gardner having returned from the city to his father’s farm – a thing he swore he’d never do – when his wife Theresa (played with a kind of hollowed-out, weary kindness by Joely Richardson) discovered she had cancer. The Gardners have three kids – Wiccan daughter, Lavinia (played frequently with a potency that steals scenes and glues your eyes to the screen by Madeleine Arthur), who thinks most people are lame and has taken to doing rituals on their farmland to kill her mother’s cancer, trainee stoner Bennie (Brendan Meyer), who fulfils a degree of social stereotyping that stoners will be more or less useless, aimless and clueless, and the significantly younger Jack (Julian Hillard), who exists more or less to be that kid. That kid in creepy movies who can communicate with unseen forces, and sit or stand silently for long takes, absorbed in something we can’t see. Julian Hillard gives excellent That Kid vibes in this movie, like the kid from the original Poltergeist movie, only more isolated and slightly less cute. He delivers plenty of unnerving energy to a movie keen to show the slow, toxic degradation of everything the colourful meteor touches.

That’s important to say – there are three or four jump scares in this movie. That’s it. The rest of its run-time is devoted to creeeeeeeeping horror. Crawling horror. Scuttling horror. And eventually, the kind of ‘Daddy doesn’t live here any more’ human horror of Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining – but with added wild-eyed Nick Cage. More swearing and shouting and punching inanimate objects, but then you see Cage’s eyes unfocus and he becomes an avatar of the colour, swinging in and out of his humanity as the scene demands. It’s like sitting in a room with an angry, simmering drunk – you’re never sure what the next moment is going to contain, and that’s a pretty edgy energy for a movie of infiltration, poisoning and destruction.

A word on the visuals: impressive. That’s one of the key things about Lovecraft – his visions, like Blake’s before him, are notoriously difficult to get right, because if you only get them half right, they look wholly wrong, and the scare-factor collapses. Here though, there’s a whole bagful of clever techniques deployed to ensure the movie gets it enough right to build the scares – the creeping increase in the use of purple in nature to show the colonisation of the natural environment by the colour from space, the flecking of purple in running water, in ice cubes etc. The use of unfocused light, infused by the purple, which stands in here for the ‘invisible’ colour from space, to show without showing, to suggest and let your mind do the rest of the work. One of the smaller jump-scares takes place in the shower, and while the scale of its effect is small, rather than schlocky, it stays with you, and will make you leery to unclog your plughole ever again. And for instance, one of the first examples of ‘Well, that ain’t right’ animals is an insect, a complex insect, which is given quite a moment of close-up screen-time. If the movie had only gotten that half-right, it would have looked schlocky and the whole suspense of the piece would have collapsed under the weight of poor realisation. It gets it so right that not only do you suspend your disbelief and accept it as a real creature, but you also get multiple squirms out of it as various aspects of its physiognomy are shown moving with a perfectly natural but somehow additionally creepy motion, as though what’s in front of you is actually a real insect, but one that’s been horribly mutated by something with only a passing understanding of the limitations of life on Earth.

Of course, Lovecraft was a master of creeping, suggested horror, but he knew there has to be a threshold, a tipping point, if you’re to turn a shiver-down-the-spine piece of work into a run-away-screaming-in-horror piece of work, and that sensibility is something Stanley embraces in his movie adaptation of the story – there’s lots of high-quality creepy stuff in this movie, but once the tipping point is reached, things go properly tonto as the colour from space conquers more and more land, more animals, more people, and even some of those who aren’t entirely conquered by it flit from sanity to madness and back as the battle continues for control.

Ultimately – well, ultimately, it would be a shame to spoiler you about how the movie ends, but let’s say it’s less ‘Happy Ever After,’ more ‘Bleakly, For The Moment,’ and the climax of the movie is a visual pay-off that gets more than acceptably close both to Lovecraft’s intense, creepy visual sense of his evil from space, and to his emotional sense of the stakes getting higher and higher on the run-up to the end. It’s a movie you should absolutely see, and Cage, Richardson, Arthur and Hillard all act their ever-loving socks off to keep you biting your nails all the way through. Shlocky only in one or two places, this is a high-quality nerve-twanger that repays your time, your energy and your interest. You can absolutely read it as an allegory for anything you like – the movie version is without particular slant or commentary, so you can see the colour out of space as whatever you dislike and think is infecting the safety of your world, or you can read it as straight visual sci-fi horror and get just as much, if not more from that reading. If you’re any kind of horror fan, a Lovecraft adaptation that comes close to the source material has got to make your hairs stand up. When it does it as well as this, it’s a must-see. If you’re not a horror fan, there are some bits that will be too strong for your stomach, but in terms of a tense, creeping, claustrophobic invasion thriller, you’ll be hard pressed to do better in 2020.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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