Nicolas Cage delivers a delightful, weirdo performance in ‘Color Out of Space’

Hau Chu

THE WASHINGTON POST – There are many reasons horror movie buffs have been eagerly awaiting Color Out of Space, an adaptation of an HP Lovecraft story from Elijah Wood’s SpectreVision production company. But for anyone else, a four-word litmus test will determine just how much of a kick you’ll get out of it: Nicolas Cage, alpaca farmer.

For those whose eyes just rolled out of their heads at the thought of the 56-year-old Oscar winner in yet another B-movie – they seem to be his bread-and-butter these days – there’s probably not much that can reel you back. But for those who might have yelped with delight, you’re in for a boffo performance, courtesy of an actor who has become the weirdo of choice for oddball auteurs everywhere.

Cage devotees will love his portrayal of Nathan Gardner, the patriarch of a family of five trying to adjust to the move to Lovecraft’s fictional rustic town of Arkham, Massachusetts, where Nathan’s wife (Joely Richardson) is recovering from cancer surgery. Things really begin to go awry when a meteorite lands in the front yard and the Gardners must contend with what comes with it: the mysterious colour of the title, rendered in the film as a glowing purple/pink energy.

Even if Cage doesn’t quite hit the highs of such recent efforts as Mandy, you’ll appreciate the finesse with which he delivers the line, “If you don’t mind, it’s time to milk the alpacas” – followed by a scene in which Nathan does just that, even going so far as to drink it, fresh from the source.

Color marks the return to directing narrative features by the South African-born cult filmmaker Richard Stanley, who was infamously – and unceremoniously – booted from the disastrous 1996 production of The Island of Dr Moreau, starring Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando.

Nicolas Cage in ‘Color Out of Space’. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Stanley, who co-wrote the script with Scarlett Amaris, makes a solid effort in blending modern computer-generated visual tricks with old-school practical effects, evoking a creeping sense of dread – buffed up by an eerie score from saxophone strongman Colin Stetson (Hereditary) – through the core of the movie.

But there’s an inherent problem that undercuts Color – and nearly every other film adaptation of Lovecraft, in whose 1927 short story the colour exists only through analogy, and is meant to be conjured by the reader’s imagination.

The film loses power by trying to make a physical manifestation of the color that terrorises Nathan and his family. And while Stanley does shine in some instances of fantastical terror and body horror, the script wobbles.

If anything, Color sometimes hews too faithfully to Lovecraft’s plot, and at times it can be difficult to tell whether the dialogue is intended to manifest genuine dread or is meant as tongue-in-cheek. Too many minor characters and subplots are cast out but never fully realised: the teenage daughter’s (Madeleine Arthur) interest in Wicca; the hydrologist (Elliot Knight) who, oddly, tries to romance her; and a local freaknik played by Tommy Chong.

To repeat: Cage, for many viewers, will be the yardstick for measuring this movie. In some scenes, it’s hard not to buy into the veteran actor’s unhinged performance. At other points, his monologues/rants feel more like an unsolicited audition tape for Alec Baldwin’s job playing Trump on Saturday Night Live (SNL).

As untidy and un-profound as Color may be, Stanley swings for the fences, when almost any other director-in-exile would have tried to get back in Hollywood’s good graces with an act of penance. Score one for the eccentrics of the world.