A Nicolas Cage film is an experience in and of itself. Even in his more commercial hits like Kick Ass and National Treasure he always controls the screen in a way that other actors cannot. Sometimes though a film comes along that fits his unique histrionics and builds upon them. Richard Stanley’s Color out of Space is one such film. A nerve shredding, hallucinatory descent into madness that is both gloriously cheap and wildly toxic with a colour palate to die for. The experience is hard to quantify in the best of ways, much like Cage himself.
When the Gardner family move from the city to a secluded house in the woods everyone takes to the isolation differently. Patriarch Nathan (Cage) takes to farming, daughter Livinia (Madeleine Arthur) embraces wiccan rituals, son Benny (Brendan Meyer) gets high because what else is a teenage boy supposed to do while matriarch Theresa (Joely Richardson) just tries to hold onto a little bit of her former life as a stock trader. However when a strange bright metalic meteorite strikes down in their back garden, that’s when the isolation or whatever is in that rock really starts to get to them.
Slow burning and methodical as it builds up a sense of paranoia and fear, Stanley’s film doesn’t embrace full blown insanity until the second half, but by that point the notion that anything can happen has supplanted the notion that this all might be a weird dream, a bad memory of a time away from society. The imperceptible shifts in behaviour that make your hairs stand on edge give way to full blown delirium, a nauseating shift that would feel jarring in any other film here seems somewhat normal.
While Cage transitioned from well intentioned father to Jack Torrence in a terrifying flash, it is Arthur who proves the scene stealer here as she walks the line between sanity and madness while making it seem easy. Even when the self mutilating comes into it, she still seems sympathetic, which is a bizarre testament to an unhinged yet controlled performance. Stanley embraces the lunacy of his story but knows the best way to really embrace the queer world he has created is to let his performers loose to play. While full of 80s animatronic monsters, the kind of creatures that wouldn’t be amiss in films like The Thing or Braindead, its the human element that feels most unnatural.
While smartly keeping his story contained within this farmstead, a cage of his own making, Stanley and cinematographer Steve Annis constantly highlight threats in the most innocuous places, a still glass of ordinary water, a menacing cloud formation or a solitary figure standing in the distance. Here the threats are mundane, everything is out to get you and even the space around you is a danger.
While an overly ethereal voiceover bookending the experience feels a little too far, a step towards normalising something that cannot be contained within a simple definition, Color out of Space defies expectations, a sensation that lives to be experienced utterly cold with no prior knowledge. Best to let the dread and insanity wash over you, allowing your own curiosity to pull you into a frenzy, a delirium of your own making, one that proves pleasantly hard to shake once the end credits finally offer you escape from the colourful nightmare.