Well, I’ve finally done it. I watched the newest adaptation of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Stanley’s The Color Out of Space starring Nicholas Cage, and some other fine folks whose names escape me now. Not because they didn’t do a fine job with the picture mind you, it’s just that I feel they have heavily relied on Cage’s star power to get this picture produced. As you may have guessed by now, I’m of two minds with this film, as I have been wanting to see it for some time yet dreading doing so.
I consider myself a fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, his C’thulhu Mythos in particular, and I’m always up for seeing an adaptation of his writings. That being said, I’ve seen how most of his adaptations turn out, and for a long time the best I’d seen was the 2001 movie Dagon by Stuart Gordon (deceptively about The Shadow Over Innsmouth, instead of as it’s title would suggest, the short story Dagon). It’s difficult to translate H.P. Lovecraft’s work onto the Silver Screen, given the nature of the subject matter is more directed at an individual’s interpretation or imagination. Especially when trying to capture the “feel” or essence of the sense of terror a mystery that appears boundless in its scope, and the feeling of helplessness in the face of something unimaginable and cosmic in scale.
Be that as it may, I think this film has done a remarkable job of capturing the essence of what drives the sanity loss, but capturing the whole scope of the WTF is going on is a double edged sword. Although this is a movie I think any fan of H.P. Lovecraft will thoroughly enjoy, it does leave a little to be desired for the uninitiated. There are several Easter Egg aspects to this movie and a lot of subtle nods as well that are directed at the fanbase, and the majority of them will register with anyone who notices them. Let’s face it, not everyone will realize that Lavinia is a nod towards Lavinia Whatley from The Dunwich Horror (which is the next in the trilogy of Lovecraft Films that Richard Stanly wants to create, yes, you read that correctly), but we all recognized The Necronomicon didn’t we? Possible spoiler here, but did we all notice that the Necronomicon Spell of Protection actually worked? She got what she wanted after all, just be careful what you wish for.
Visually the movie is stunning, I can bore you with all the details of cinematography but anyone who has read the original work was worried about how this might translate to screen. Much in the same way I was worried how they’d pull off Guardians of the Galaxy, my worry in this regard is unfounded. They did a splendid job in all the technical areas of bringing it to life, including Creature FX and CGI, as well as Score and Sound. By and far, this is a work of art, and everyone should see it. You feel the “but” coming on don’t you? Very astute you are. This movie is not without some issues, and sadly, they are the issues that might impact enjoyment of the uninitiated.
I spoke earlier of the double edged sword in regards to capturing the scope of the unimaginable in cosmic scale scope of things. I feel this is where we begin to lose a lot of “normal” folks. There are a lot of subtle currents and things in general going on in this movie, that I believe are lost on people without some type of hand holding and guiding throughout the movie. Whether this be by means of a narrator or spoken dialog tying people to the reality of what is going on. So much of this movie I feel is lost because of this, especially towards the end of the film. There needs to be a clearer establishment that time is being warped, and a grounding of sorts for the average moviegoer to truly appreciate what this film is portraying. I will say that what you see in the detachment from rationale that Nick Cage’s character shows in the film is going on in a broader range and a grander scale throughout the film in a multitude of ways, and despite the attempt of the character Ward (played by Elliot Knight) to be that grounding, it just seems to fail in this aspect. After the initial opening monologue I had expected the character to be more involved in that capacity than turned out to be the case, as it was the best opening monologue I’ve seen in a while and truly set the tone for the movie. Subsequently his ending monologue was fantastic as well, and does leave you with a certain sense of dread and finality, all the while wondering what’s next even at the obvious end of the movie.
I think the biggest disconnect in this film is similar to a lot of horror films, but perhaps more glaring in a Lovecraft work. When crazy and unexplained things are happening, why is the obvious the hardest thing to do? Get. Out. Perhaps that goes hand in hand with figuring in the loss of sanity, the whole “oh it can’t be that, that type of thing just doesn’t happen” and then things get weirder and weirder. At what point do you look at someone and say “ok, am I the only one that feels this way, lets go” or do you stick around for the next unexplainable and impossible thing to happen? As I have gotten older, this has become harder and harder for me to set aside. I know I should suspend reality for a movie, especially a Lovecraftian one, but at some point it’s human nature to go into fight or flight. If there isn’t anything obvious to fight, that leaves you one option, and although it can be said that you will rationalize away as much as you can. At a certain point, one that occurred in the movie, you have people identifying the problem but not reacting with the level of “lets gtfo” that you would expect. Sure they do make a couple half hearted attempts, but not with the expedience or commitment you would expect. Maybe it’s just me, I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff in my time on this Earth, but when you have people reacting to external stimuli directly opposite what you would expect for human nature or the survival instinct, it just detracts from the experience of the film for me.
Then again, I’m the same guy that had a problem with the Mel Gibson movie ‘Signs’ because the Priest/Farmer didn’t own the one thing you can find on every farm. A Shotgun. I will say that out of everything I found a problem with, the one that I had the least problem with was the character of Lavinia. The opening scenes had me briefly wondering what direction this would be going and how cringe worthy it would wind up, but what I had initially thought would be a detractive aspect wound up being the opposite. The actors and actresses all did a wonderful job with what they were given. I felt at no point was the acting unconvincing or at issue. There were some dialog choices that could’ve been better, and at a couple points it seemed a bit lilted, but I’m not going to pick the overall work completely apart when every other movie has similar issues. I’m sure writing a screen adaptation of this was no walk in the park, especially to keep it interesting in the modern day, so kudos to Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris for pulling it off as well as they have.
Things happen in this movie that those familiar with Lovecraft’s work (even if not the original Colour Out of Space) will understand before anyone who has no experience with this style of Horror. Therein lies the rub. Lovecraft has inspired so many, yet true to source material in the modern day remains a niche market. Capturing everything that is required to properly convey the emotional and mental stresses that are placed on the protagonists in a Lovecraft work on the Silver Screen seems an insurmountable task, yet here is the closest I’ve seen to accomplishing it. My own personal differences with how I’d have handled the film aside, Richard Stanley has done a remarkably fantastic job, and I look forward to him completing his trilogy. It has it’s issues, but I suggest anyone who enjoys the cerebral style of H.P. Lovecraft or thinks they might, do yourself a favor and give it a try. I truly feel you won’t be disappointed, and here’s to hoping at some point we’ll get a Delta Green movie.