Nicolas Cage stars in this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft done by the famed not-director of The Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s awesome.
The film is narrated by a hydrologist named Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight). Nathan Gardner (Nicolas Cage) moves his family to a rural farm in Massachusetts after his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson) survives cancer, deciding to start growing tomatoes and raising alpacas (for the milk, apparently). His children are handling the situation in various ways: His daughter, Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), takes up Wicca to try to keep her mother’s cancer away; his eldest son Benny (Brendan Meyer) starts smoking pot with local hermit Ezra (Tommy “Cheech and” Chong); and his youngest son Jack (Julian Hilliard) spends most of his time just playing with his dog, Sam.
One night a meteor crashes into their front yard. The meteor glows an unnatural color and emits a terrible smell before being struck by lightning. What follows is high strangeness.
I wanted to editorialize a little bit on the story, so if you just want the film, skip down.
ON THE SHORT STORY
So, if you’ve read “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft, good news, this movie changes enough of the story and adds enough creativity to still keep everything interesting. If you haven’t, it’s really short and pretty solid. It’s definitely one of the least controversial Lovecraft stories and it’s one of the most adapted and influential, up there with “The Dunwich Horror” and “Herbert West, Reanimator.” It got a bit more press than many of his previous works because it was selected as one of the Best American Short Stories the following year, just as Lovecraft’s more famous “The Call of Cthulhu” was published. It’s got a great blend of Sci-Fi and Horror elements and, as is typical with Lovecraft, it bombards you with multiple levels of unease that culminate at cosmic. You can read it here, because copyright law has set it free.
Also, Lovecraft was a racist bastard. I feel that everyone who does a review of an adaptation of him should probably mention that he was a brilliant and influential author, but also a racist bastard. He’s not getting paid for adaptations and, much like this movie, his works can produce interesting and entertaining derivations, so let’s keep them going, but we should still acknowledge that even by 1920s standards he was pretty damned racist. Okay, now to the film:
First, how exactly has Nicolas Cage never been in an adaptation of Lovecraft before? One of the hallmarks of Lovecraft is a type of madness that usually comes from trying to grasp a concept that the human mind simply is not capable of accepting. While this might be difficult to convey for some actors, THAT’S NICOLAS CAGE’S DEFAULT. Nicolas Cage always seems like he’s living in a reality that’s rotated about 20 degrees from our own. There’s a scene in Ghost Rider where Cage “relaxes” by eating jelly beans out of a martini glass while watching internet videos of monkeys doing karate and he somehow makes it seem believable. In Mandy, Cage manages to give a heartfelt and emotional performance which he follows up with a chainsaw duel. He’s basically the perfect person to convey the madness that comes from forbidden knowledge or trying to perceive the impossible.
The film does a good job of attempting to convey a concept that just can’t be related visually: Imagining a new color. In Lovecraft’s story, the meteor’s color is described only in analogy because it doesn’t fall anywhere on the visual spectrum. In this film, even though the color is represented by an unnatural neon pinkish hue, they use it in such a way that it does feel like it’s part of something ineffable. It’s significant that Cage sells the sensation of something “else” happening to him as he looks at it, making us feel like reality and logic start to get burned away by the glow.
That’s not to say that Cage’s performance is the only good one in the film. Actually, all of the actors who portray the family members do a good job of showing their various descents into madness caused by the color. Each of them has their own take on the decline of their sanity, but they all work. Tommy Chong plays a character who already lives in an altered state, which… well, is perfect for Tommy Chong, but he also does a good job showing his character’s greater ability to perceive things outside of the Earthly realm due to it.
The special effects in this film are sufficiently unnerving. There are things that are horribly disturbing that are both implied and also shown. If you’re someone with a queasy stomach, this movie is not for you. It also helps that they are used sparingly. The pacing of the movie, much like a Lovecraft story, is unnervingly slow and deliberate. It starts off with almost nothing happening, but the fact that nothing is happening is itself tense because of the atmosphere. Even when stuff starts to happen, it’s very gradual but it keeps building from slightly supernatural all the way to cosmic horror.
Kudos to Director Richard Stanley for managing to do such a good job capturing Lovecraft. He says that this is the first of a trilogy and I hope that’s true, because I would love to see more quality adaptations of cosmic horror. Hell, put Cage in all of them. I won’t complain. It’s also good to see him come back to film after having famously been fired three days into filming The Island of Dr. Moreau, a movie that failed so hard the Documentary about his experience is called Lost Soul. Stanley supposedly loved the H.G. Wells story and was passionate about that project, but he apparently had a huge connection to Lovecraft all of his life, and this film captures a lot of that.
Overall, I really liked this film. I recommend it for fans of Cage, fans of Lovecraft, or fans of body horror.
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