Nicolas Cage is having a moment – although, arguably, he’s been having a moment his entire bonkers career. The man works a LOT. But last year saw two particularly terrific performances from him, in the arty horror movie “Mandy” and voicing a brooding noir archetype in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
“Color Out of Space,” which played the Toronto Film Festival Midnight Madness section, is full-bore, glorious B-movie Cage: Cranked up to 11, spattered with gore and bellowing about alpacas. Directed by Richard Stanley (a cult fave for 1990’s “Hardware”), it’s an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft horror story about a family farm taken over by an invasive, unseen force emanating from a crashed meteorite.
Nathan Gardner (Cage) is just beginning to get into the rhythms of country living (in the town of Arkham, a regular Lovecraftian locale), while his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is recovering from a major illness; her Wiccan-aspiring daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) begins the film by casting a spell for her health, but she’s interrupted by a cute local scientist (Elliot Knight) who’s monitoring the town’s water sources – and the Gardners’ well is about to go very wrong. A crash in the middle of the night leads to their discovery of a glowing pink rock that’s smashed into the yard. Soon, the Gardners’ youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard) is having conversations with “the boy in the well,” in the time-honored film tradition of little kids being the first to tap into otherworldly happenings.
In an effect similar to that of last year’s “Annihilation,” the unknown substance from the meteorite starts to seep into everything and everyone on the Gardners’ land. No one in the family seems to notice that a riot of hot-pink and purple flowers have suddenly sprung up, or that those colors are swirling around in the air. But soon it’s making everyone act strange (or stranger, in the case of Cage), and, purportedly, warping time, though Stanley is less successful at conveying exactly what this means or how it’s happening.
The film, while quite beautiful at times, leans heavily into hamminess, and features some head-scratching decisions. Even the most innocuous early lines from Cage are read as if he’s already a borderline psychopath. There’s a lot of inexplicably odd dialogue, like “It smells like somebody lit a dog on fire.” (Is that a saying?) Q’orianka Kilcher (“The Alienist”) plays the town mayor with a “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” level of makeup and a bizarre mincing affect (generously, this could be taken as an effect of the meteor, but that’s not really suggested). Tommy Chong, however, appears to just mostly be playing himself as mellow groundskeeper Ezra, who picks up on the bad vibe early on.
Flaws aside, I’m betting Cage is why you’ll show up for this one, and he does not disappoint. Even simply picking tomatoes in the garden, done with Cage flair, is strange and off-kilter and a little hilarious (and it only gets better when he begins taking a single bite out of every one, then slamming it into the trash). By the time things have taken an “Altered States” turn – pity those poor alpacas, not to mention a couple members of the Gardner family – he’s fully unhinged, which is where he thrives. My Toronto audience loved it – I just hope Stanley intended it to be at least somewhat funny.
Author: Sara Stewart