Beyond Fest 2019 kicked off last night at The Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood with a double-bill from Elijah Wood’s production company SpectreVision. After combining high-profile films such as Widows with a David Cronenberg Retrospective last year, Beyond Fest continues to provide an eclectic line-up this year, with West Coast Premieres of Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit and Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite. They are also giving LA horror fans a chance to see films recently shown at the big genre festivals; Fantasia (Montreal, Quebec), Fantastic Fest (Austin, Texas) and FrightFest (London). SpectreVision was founded in 2010 by Wood, Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller. Its biggest cult hit so far has definitely been last year’s Mandy, but it also gave the world A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) and The Greasy Strangler (2016) and has started rivalling Blumhouse for indie horror content. Wood is a busy man at this year’s Beyond Fest – with SpectreVision’s two 2019 offerings – Colour out of Space and Daniel Isn’t Real PLUS starring in Come to Daddy. South African director Richard Stanley has a loyal fanbase, which was certainly evident from the reception he received at The Egyptian Theatre last night. In popular culture, he will forever be intertwined with the ill-fated project The Island of Doctor Moreau, which he was fired from a week after filming began and which unfairly cast a shadow over his career. Colour out of Space is being seen as a revival of sorts for Stanley, with the hope that it will lead to more writing and directing projects for him.
As well as the return of Richard Stanley, Colour out of Space has two big name selling points – Nicolas Cage and H.P. Lovecraft. While I can’t say I’ve kept abreast of the deepest niches of Cage’s career in the last decade or so (the only Cage films I’ve seen this millenium are Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Adaptation, Matchstick Men and Kick-Ass), I will say that last year’s Mandy did reignite some interest and affection for the actor within me. Apparently unhinged Nic Cage saturated in a) blood and b) psychedelic neon-pink is my new jam. While Japan has really run with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, there have been surprisingly few Western direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s stories (obviously there have been references, for example in 2011’s Cabin in the Woods and there is Cthulhu’s influence on the Kaiju – which has crossed over to Hollywood and remains popular with 2019’s King of the Monsters). Hopefully Colour out of Space will introduce a film audience who may be unfamiliar with Lovecraft’s books (myself included) to his stories and themes, perhaps kick-starting a resurgence of adaptations.
Colour out of Space takes place in Lovecraft’s fictional creation of Arkham, Massachusetts (one of the many ways he may have influenced Stephen King, is in his creation of Castle Rock, Maine), the setting for most of his stories. Nathan Gardner (Cage) has taken over his father’s isolated farmhouse and is trying to make a go of the rural life, including keeping alpacas. His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is still very much plugged into the “grid” and is trying to keep a business going through the farmhouse’s patchy WiFi. The two teenage children are coping with isolation by smoking weed – in the case of Benny (Brendan Meyer) and through being a Goth Wiccan – in the case of Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur). There is a third and final child – the dinosaur mad Jack (Julian Hilliard). The only other living souls in the vicinity are Ezra (Tommy Chong), the hippy ‘squire’ of the land and Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), a travelling hydrologist conducting a survey on the water table. The film opens with Lavinia doing a ritual which she hopes will keep her mother cancer-free. There is a suggestion that perhaps she accidentally summons the thing which ends up being the family’s undoing, as she is seen with a copy of the Necronomicon, a fictional spellbook which appears in many Lovecraft stories. One night, a meteor lands in the garden (crucially, right by the well, where it infects the water which the family drink) and things gradually start to go awry from this point – with all of the family members showing different symptoms and reactions to whatever has invaded them.
The meteor enhances elements that are already present within the family. Theresa and Jack both go into a kind of shock, which in Theresa’s case, leads to her accidentally chopping her fingers off. They respond in a similar way to the malevolent force and unfortunately, their fates will be entwined. Stoner Benny starts to space out further, he loses track of time and gets lost in familiar places. Lavinia (who has been a hypochondriac about getting sick earlier in the film), gets physically sick and Nathan develops a rash, while also becoming increasingly aggressive and acting strange with his family (a chance for Cage to develop into his fully-fledged batshit NIC CAGE persona). The physical effects of the meteor on the land is that strange pink flowers start to appear everywhere, there are what look like Northern Lights in the sky and the alpacas start acting strangely. The stunning range of pinks and purples (the colour of the title) on the land and in the sky are breath-taking and reminiscent of both Annihilation and the Upside Down. Stanley (in the Q&A after the film) said the colours were chosen to suggest ultra-violet and infra-red – the two colours at the extreme ends of the spectrum of human comprehension. Things get increasingly gnarly towards the end, which I won’t spoil, but will hint that Harry Potter fans may be reminded of the word “splinch.”
Colour out of Space is definitely worth seeing on a big screen (for the gorgeous colour-filled visuals, which frequently get so bright, you have to squint) and with a big crowd (who will lap up the melodrama and humour that is sure to be found in a recent Nic Cage genre flick). It’s funny, entertaining, grotesque and both looks and sounds beautiful. 2019 has been another strong year for horror and this is a great follow up to Mandy for Cage. Here is hoping that both Richard Stanley and H.P. Lovecraft now get to experience something of the resurgence that Cage has had multiple times in his career.
My Rating: ★★★★
Director: Richard Stanley
Writers: Scarlett Amaris, H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Stanley
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Q’orianka Kilcher, Joely Richardson, Tommy Chong