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Film preview: 'Color Out of Space'


I wasn't entirely prepared the first time I watched "Color Out of Space." Seeing it back in September during my trip to cover the Toronto International Film Festival, the gonzo science fiction-horror flick wasn't entirely what I expected.

The film was screening as part of TIFF's Midnight Madness series, which presents a wild slate of action, horror, shock, and fantasy cinema. The films presented under that banner are a diverse bunch, trending toward the pulpy. But part of the fun is that you never know what you're going to get. And screenings often get rowdy.

Crucially, I didn't actually see "Color Out of Space" during its public midnight screening, but a day later during a mid-afternoon showing specifically for press and industry, where the audience tends to be a bit more subdued and slightly more jaded. In that context, the film's offbeat, goofy tone didn't quite hit right.

But what is my life if not to offer a moviegoing template for others to learn from my mistakes? My second viewing was alone at home watching a screener on my laptop. Still not ideal, but this time I had a better idea of what I was getting into. And that made all the difference.

"Color Out of Space" marks the eagerly-anticipated reemergence of filmmaker Richard Stanely, who returns to the director's chair for the first time since being fired off his 1996 remake of "The Island of Dr. Moreau," starring Val Kilmer and the late Marlon Brando. The full story of that ill-fated film's troubled production was chronicled in the entertaining doc "Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau," but long story short: Stanley was replaced by John Frankenheimer, though he still received credit for co-writing the screenplay.

One of the benefits of seeing a film during its festival run is that by catching it early, prior to any theatrical release and before any real buzz or hype can take hold. The downside of that is by going in cold, you don't have a chance to get yourself into the right headspace for whatever you're about to witness.

An adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's short story, "Color Out of Space" centers on the Gardner family, who've recently relocated from the city to a remote farmhouse in rural Massachusetts.

Family patriarch Nathan (Nicholas Cage) longs for the quiet life raising alpacas with his slightly distracted wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), who's still on the mend from a recent illness, along with their stoner eldest son Benny (Brendan Meyer), black magic-obsessed teenage daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), and precocious young son Jack (Julian Hilliard).

When a mysterious meteorite crash-lands on their land, it sinks into the ground and begins to emit an otherworldly fuchsia-colored energy. That energy gradually appears to trigger some strange mutations in nearby flora and fauna, and eventually leads to increasingly erratic behavior in the family themselves (cue a whole lot of screaming about alpacas: whether they've been fed, have they been checked on, are they locked in for the night, and oh god what happened to the alpacas?!). Or maybe it's all in their heads.

When it comes to midnight movies, the traditional rubrics of what is "good" and what's "bad" get set aside in favor of more mercenary benchmarks like "am I entertained?" And I was certainly never bored. Frequently skeptical, occasionally confused, sometimes delighted, but definitely never bored. To say nothing about the joys of watching Cage descending into full-on freak-out mode (seriously, so much yelling about alpacas).

With its mix of straight-up horror, gooey makeup effects, and performances that dance along the edges of camp, "Color Out of Space" is the platonic ideal of a midnight movie. For maximum enjoyment, it's made to be enjoyed beer in hand, with some raucous (preferably slightly intoxicated) like-minded weirdos.

"Color Out of Space" is heaven for cult film enthusiasts. And seeing it in the mostly full Scotiabank IMAX Theater alongside semi-interested industry folk in stone-faced silence just didn't have the same effect. The film is messy, goofy, over-the-top, and oh so squishy; a wild time at the movies. As long as you're prepared.

Adam Lubitow is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to [email protected].