By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
After watching the 2010 film Die Farbe (The Colour out of Space, using the UK Spelling) which adapts H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic tale of alien invasion many years ago, I had to wonder who else would take on the challenge of realizing this short story in feature length form. Richard Stanley is known for a few crazy works, and although credited for penning a revamp of The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), he rarely strays far from his staples. This movie is his return to the director’s seat and made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival 2019. Slowly but surely, the Colour has been landing at local art houses to spread the sickness.
His vision is solid, but his narrative could use tweaking. After a very lengthy introduction of the Gardner family, dad (Nicolas Cage) thinks he can hold the fort when a meteorite crashes in his backyard. His wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson) is trying her hand to work remotely in a cabin in the woods, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) is teaching herself the art of Wicca (to which the Necronomicon is the wrong book to use when things go south) and Benny (Brendan Meyer) tries to have a social life with a certain local. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, making friends is really tough and its assumed they are home schooled. Thankfully Tommy Chong offers a few whacky moments to remind us that this is an isolationist film. The youngest son, Jack (Julian Hillard) realizes he can talk to fairies.
That’s what we’re led to believe, but the alien entity is something else. We know it’s composed of energy and can interfere with communications. Just what it wants, we never know. If Erich von Däniken was to postulate that certain visitors to this planet has an agenda for all its denizens, he’d be screaming chicken little in no time flat! But behind all the beauty of pristine flowers and a bold colour palette of the flora growing around in the field where the meteorite landed, there lurks something disturbing. It can create beauty, but can hide the beast within this Eden.
The outdoor and indoor lighting design takes on many forms. It’s like the production artists behind the making Wizard of Oz were hired and they were told to learn from Suspiria in how to paint this movie up! Just how much of it was green screen is hard to tell. The blends are perfect. Part of the film felt like we are in Stanley’s waking dream as seen through a multi-faceted amethyst. But since he never shows, and only intones the Colour, it’s easy to know when the threat is coming.
I enjoyed this movie for what it’s worth. Stanley isn’t being entirely innovative with his adaptation. I recognized all the tropes used in many a film delivering the mounting dread. From the television ala Poltergeist where the entities are trying to speak and even a well that doubles as the tree from said movie, I had to shake my head. Cage is basically reprising his role from Mandy. I would not be surprised if the writer/director chose this actor after seeing the 2018 film. Toss in a few elements from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and that’s this film in a nutshell.
The praise goes to the cinematographer and visual design team than the story. A lot of tricks were used to convey a proper outworldliess of this unknown entity. Just what it wants, we never know. Ward (Elliot Knight) is the protagonist from Lovecraft’s story, and the author would approve of a few updates and question the casting choice. He will most certainly say Stanley went overboard with one reveal. This director’s vision is to show how a lone family deals when a huge sentient solar flare takes a swipe at the planet Earth. Everyone in that path would be dead or mutated, depending if even a lick touched the ground.
I can’t wait to see how this auteur plans on tying together his next two films, which are green lit. The Dunwich Horror is next and an update is certainly needed. I saw the 1970 film, and it does not stand the test of time. The Call of Cthulhu is too obvious of a choice to conclude with and I firmly believe making this tale for cinema simply won’t work. The Shadow over Innsmouth feels more appropriate (and may get changed significantly) just to show how certain heroes is resigned to their fate-out of our control-or determined to change the future for everyone. To say this shared universe is going to takes notes from Pet Semetary is too early to tell.
3½ out of 5