Review: The Color out of Space (2019 film)

So, the first part of the announced Lovecraftian trilogy has been released on DVD, which meant: I got a chance to watch it.

I went into the experience with mixed feelings. I am not too fond of most adaptions of Lovecraft’s work, my favourites so far being the films produced by the H.P. Lovecraft historical society. Another thing that made me cautious was the lead actor: Nicolas Cage. His recent performances I did not find reassuring.

I should not have worried. Although the film has some weaknesses, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Although I assume that most readers of this blog will be at least somewhat familiar with The Colour out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft, I give a spoiler warning to those who are not:

The Color out of Space is a modern adaption of Lovecraft’s classic story. I.e. it is set in today’s Lovecraft County with characters to match.

Ammi Pierce now is called Ezra and is a hippie-dropout living in the woods, to fill the Pierce-gap, there is a Sheriff Pierce, and all of the Gardner family have their names updated for modern times:

Nathan and Theresa and their children Benny, Jack and Lavinia. Yes, there is a daughter in the house whose name is an obvious reference to Lavinia Whateley of Dunwich Horror fame. The unnamed prospector and narrator is Ward Phillips (I wonder where they got that name from…) who is no longer a prospector but a hydrologist from MU in Arkham.
I took an instant liking to Ward Phillips. For one, he is African-American, a nice stab at old Howard who was infamously racist, and he is running around in a similar Miskatonic University t-shirt to one I used to have.

The movie generally follows the narrative of the short story with some things added, again to make it more suitable for a modern story.
The film starts with an opening monologue, by, as we will find out, Ward Philips, taken directly from the original source material, but slightly abridged:

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight.
When I went into the hills and vales to survey for the new reservoir they told me the place was evil. They told me this in Arkham, and because that is a very old town full of witch legends I thought the evil must be something which grandams had whispered to children through centuries.
Then I saw that dark westward tangle of glens and slopes for myself, and ceased to wonder at anything besides its own elder mystery.  

The Color out of Space (2019 film) opening monologue

The opening monologue does not mention the blasted heath because here we have another divergence from the original story:
Ward Phillips arrives just before the meteor strike and is a witness to and a protagonist within the horror that unfolds.
We meet him and Lavinia first, while he accidentally trespasses on the Gardner’s grounds and catches Lavinia performing a Wiccan ritual.

At this point, I really was not sure about the inserted Gardner daughter being Wiccan, but it plays out well later.

That night the meteor strikes and the film handles this well. We see weird colors and we see Jack, the younger son, crouching in the hall during the night, arms around his knees as if waiting for the impact of a nuclear bomb. The implication seems to be he knew something was going to happen. I think he is meant to be slightly psychic or somehow in touch with the Colour, something that also becomes clearer later.

Next, we are introduced to Ezra and learn that there is already something odd about the water when Benny, Ward and Ezra drink coffee in Ezra’s shack.

The following night a thunderstorm comes rolling in and the meteor draws the lightning, to the great delight of Lavinia, while Ward witnesses some strange chemical and electromagnetic phenomena in and around his mobile lab.

The Color draws the lightning

Then, the madness starts creeping in, at an accelerated pace compared to the short story. Everything happens in a matter of days, not drawn out over months.
Right after the thunderstorm, the first strange flowers start blooming and the general madness and weird influence of the Color become tangible. I have to give it to Julian Hilliard, who plays Jack, for adding an extra dose of creepiness to the thing that is taking over the farm. His performance is excellent.

The film has all the elements of the short story: Weird, mutated plant- and animal life. The Color permeating everything and everything getting continually worse.

To add some dread for the modern age, the Color now also effects electronic communication devices, effectively cutting the Gradners off from the world.

Lavinia tries her magick to protect the family, of course to no avail and maybe even speeds up her own possession by the Color by doing so.

In the end, the Color wipes out the Gardners, just like it did in the short story and the movie ends with another monologue by Ward Philips, again taken from the source material, but also modified.

The Color leaves

While being overall enjoyable and faithful to Lovecraft’s work, the film has a few weaknesses. The special effects generally fit and I was really impressed by the mutated animals, the mutations the Color causes are on some occasions too much like The Thing from the film of the same name.
The scene when the tree picks up and impales the sheriff was completely unnecessary. In a similar vein, the annoying mayor was a superfluous character who added nothing to the story.

I was impressed by The Color out of Space. While Nicolas Cage’s performance is all right, Julian Hillard really shines as Jack, as I already said. Madeleine Arthur as Lavinia also delivers a solid performance with her teenage rebellion and very different descent into madness.
A worthy entry in the list of Lovecraftian movies and one that gives me hope for the other two that are to come.

8 out of 10 screaming manias.

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