Review: ‘Color Out of Space’ brings cosmic horror home

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” 

These are the words that open horror author H.P. Lovecraft’s 1928 short story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” and serve not only as an opening to the narrative, but as a summation of the themes that Lovecraft explored throughout his career. 

One of the most influential horror writers of all time, Lovecraft’s work pioneered the concept of cosmic horror, in which his ancient alien gods drove anyone who was unfortunate enough to discover them into madness. Despite his wide-reaching influence, Lovecraft has had relatively few faithful adaptations in film and television. With “Color Out of Space,” director Richard Stanley (best known to horror fans for his films “Hardware” and “Dust Devil”) delivers not only a truly faithful adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s most popular stories, but also one of the most chilling horror films in recent memory. 

The film stars Nicolas Cage as Nathan Gardner, a husband and father of three who has moved with his family to a farm in the rural countryside. When a meteor crash-lands on their property, a strange alien color that is unlike anything seen on this planet begins to infect both the plant and animal life around them. The color from the meteorite begins to distort and mutate whatever becomes infected with it, to horrifying results. 

“Color Out of Space” is a truly disturbing portrayal of an alien invasion because it taps into the unknown horror that is central to Lovecraft’s work. The extraterrestrial threat is portrayed as neither hostile nor friendly; rather it is treated as an infectious virus. The horror is derived from the disturbing bodily mutations that it causes, and from the increasing madness of the characters as they struggle to comprehend this cosmic terror. 

“Color Out of Space” has a personality and tone all its own, which manages to balance both the intense terror experienced by the characters with truly touching family interactions. Despite the fact that the film deals with such grand and morbid themes, it has a true emotional core that keeps the viewer invested throughout the madness. 

The film is not for the squeamish, as it features incredible practical makeup effects which bring the disturbing mutated monsters to life. One of the key aspects of Lovecraft’s work is that he leaves the monsters mostly to the viewers’ imagination, as the theater of the mind is always far scarier. Director Stanley uses clever lighting and editing to give the viewer the same effect; we never see too much of the monsters that we get used to them. By only giving us quick glimpses of the creatures, their mutated forms are left mostly to our imaginations. 

One of the most commendable aspects of this film is how it embraces the bleak nature of the source material. The film does not pull its punches, and explores themes of insanity, loss of control and the universe’s indifference towards humanity. Stanley uses a combination of incredible cinematography and otherworldly sounds to disorient the viewer, which further places him or her in the terror that the characters are experiencing. 

“Color Out of Space” is an incredible cosmic horror experience, and a terrific adaptation of one of horror’s most important authors. The film is unlike any other horror film in recent memory, and is not to be missed by any fan of the genre. The film, which had a limited theatrical release earlier this year, is available for purchase and rental now. 

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