Illustration by Ysabel Berger

2020’s Most Bizarre Horror Movie

Cosmic horror is one of those genres known for its difficulty in being portrayed. Facing the unknowable is a staple of the genre, so you might see how it can be difficult to translate to the screen. One might even argue that in doing so, you are robbing it of some of its power. However, recently cosmic horror has gained a resurgence such as in the likes of Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” and Netflix’s “Bird Box.” Richard Stanley takes on this same task with his 2020 movie, “Color Out of  Space,” adapted from a short story of the same name by the father of cosmic horror himself, H. P. Lovecraft.

“Color Out of Space” follows the Gardener family as their farm is struck by an extraterrestrial rock emanating a strange color. Admittedly, this is where the first hurdle of the adaptation comes. In Lovecraft’s original work he describes this color as one never before seen. It is immediately recognizable as magenta. That being said, it pulsates with a radiation-like glow, evoking a sense of unease and otherworldliness.

This color begins to have a strange effect on the Gardeners, interacting with them in different ways. Nathan (Nicolas Cage), the father, smells something terrible none of the rest of the family can. At first, they try to ignore it by going about their daily duties, but things only begin to grow more bizarre.

There is an underlying message about pollution that will have watchers second-guessing ever drinking from tap again, but the movie is more focused on the family’s dynamics. Each of them seems to have a defense against the chaos of the world, but with the appearance of the color, those beliefs begin to dissolve. For instance, the character of Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) is Wiccan and performs rituals of protection. Her beliefs, in particular, give her more strength than say her mother’s (Joely Richardson) who is focused only on getting work done. Lavinia has a more open mind and thus is more able to keep a level head in the face of the inexplicable.

Stanley’s depiction of the color is only part of what makes this nightmarish fever dream work. Another important aspect is the score as composed by Colin Stetson. It adds an extra dreadful layer to the alien atmosphere, heightening the sense of the unknown.

It should also be noted this movie only had a budget of $6 million when compared to the likes of “Annihilation,” which had $40 million. This is only noticeable in one scene with a poorly done CGI cat. Otherwise, Stanley utilizes some truly horrifying practical effects that will bring to mind 1982’s “The Thing.” Add in Nicolas Cage’s manic style of acting and you have all the ingredients for a cult classic.

Long-time Lovecraftian fans will also be pleased to learn this is the first of what Stanley plans to make into a trilogy. For his next project, he is planning “The Dunwich Horror.” He has even hinted at a possible confrontation between humankind and the Old Ones, those ancient dark gods that inhabit the mythos of Lovecraftian literature, a fact that should send shivers down the spines of anyone who knows even a hint of what that means.

With a somewhat messy plot that takes a backseat to the evils the Gardeners face, “Color Out of Space” will leave even veteran horror movie viewers shaken as they look up at the stars and wonder what is staring back.

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