[Ryan] ‘Color Out Of Space,’ Stanley Out Of Practice

There is another Nicolas Cage movie. This is cause for rejoicing.

Obviously, there’s another Nicolas Cage movie every other week. That’s to be expected. The man stars in more movies on a yearly basis than there are states in the Union. That’s the source of some of his professional woes, although it’s hard to call them professional woes given how much work he gets on a daily basis.

Nicolas Cage has a reputation for bad performances. I’m not sure that’s fair. Daniel Day Lewis has a reputation for good performances, as he should, but if he starred in more films on a yearly basis than there were states in the Union, he would probably have a reputation for bad performances. If you star in a film every four years, your performance is probably going to be pretty dang good. (At least, it better be; you spent four years on it). But if you spend, on average, about four weeks on a film, your performance could be anywhere on the map, as is often the case with Nicolas Cage.

But as someone, somewhere once said, “If you cut out the countless throwaway movies, and with them throwaway performances, that have characterized Nicolas Cage’s career, and then isolated his high points, we might be talking about Nicolas Cage as though he were one of the greatest actors of his generation, or at least greatest American actors.” I don’t remember who said that, and that’s just me paraphrasing the quote as I remember it while talk-to-texting this as I drive from Wake Forest to Louisburg on a weekday afternoon, but I think that’s probably a fair assessment, if a bit exaggerated.

Nevertheless, I have a pretty significant fondness for Nicolas Cage, warts and all, not least because the infinity films he stars in per year tend to go towards funding the Bizarro art films he tends to pop out every couple years or so. Color Out Of Space is one of those films.

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But Color Out Of Space is noteworthy for another reason. It’s not just the new Nicolas Cage film. It’s not even just the new Nicolas Cage art film. It’s the new Richard Stanley film.

That is, Richard Stanley, from  Hardware/Dust Devil fame. The same Richard Stanley who almost directed The Island Of Doctor Moreau. The same Richard Stanley who (though, admittedly, has been working steadily as a screenwriter and producer for the last 20 years) has not directed a film of his own in quite some time. This is that Richard Stanley, and this is now, I guess, his breakout film. And as a Return-To-Filmmaking vnture for the honorable Richard Stanley, it’s pretty good.

It has all the Hallmarks of the old Richard Stanley: Lush visuals, a wealth of stomach-churning practical effects, remarkable performances from actors not generally known for midnight-drive-in-style-fare, and so on.

But Stanley seems to have picked up a number of new skills along the way. Color Out Of Space is occasionally gross, but it is very much not a “gross-out” film. As is the trend in recent years, it’s high-concept, for sure, but it functions like a “family drama,” and a rather cozy one at that. As paradoxical as it may sound, Color Out Of Space comes very close to qualifying as nice-core at points, as Stanley devotes significant attention to the surprisingly warm and tight-knit relationships between each family member.

Nicolas Cage has a drinking problem, and it is a problem, but his family still loves him. The daughter has roughly the kind of alternative-spirituality-fascination that you would expect from a teenage girl living in rural Massachussets but, given what Stanley shows us, it produces no significant friction among the rest of her family members. The son is a stoner, as is often the case, and the family deals with it with a reasonable enough degree of both alarm and resignation.

All of this, of course is hurtling towards disaster.

A meteor lands, or an asteroid, or whatever you call a big rock that falls out of the sky and lands on the front lawn of your woodland farm, and brings catastrophe with it. In a narrative turn that unfortunately resembles 2018’s Annihilation just a bit too cozily, the alien forces that The Big Rock brings with it somehow mutate the people or places or things nearby them, either by design or by default.

And so animals die – five goats are fused together into a gruesome goat hybrid that Nicolas Cage has to put out of its misery, and I think maybe the dog, too. And this is the shallow end of The Big Rock’s depredations. Not only does it warp our characters’ bodies, it also skewers their minds: Nicolas Cage starts to see people who aren’t there; Tommy Chong gets got; the list goes on.

My suspicion, in the end, is that Color Out Of Space will come to be remembered as “lesser Richard Stanley” – as a comeback film, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting “return to form,” and it gives me confidence that there will be more to come, perhaps even more collaborations between Richard Stanley and Nicolas Cage – but that Color Out Of Space is, at best, a hint of what a properly funded, creatively unencumbered Richard Stanley can achieve with the right collaborators.

He says that Color Out Of Space is the first in what will ultimately be a trilogy of Lovecraftian adaptations. If this is a preview of what’s to come, then that’s good news.

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