One of the most underrated horror movies to come out in 2020, Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space is a fairly faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same name.
Now, adapting anything from the granddaddy of cosmic horrors can be a bit difficult; after all, most of Lovecraft’s horror doesn’t come from jump scares and sudden reveals of a ghost’s terrifying face (, god forbid, Twilight’s take on vampires). Rather, Lovecraftian horror lies in the unknowable and the slow, steady descent towards irredeemable madness.
And Richard Stanley pulls it off beautifully, probably drawing from the existential crisis he must have gone through after the infamous debacle on the set of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which concluded with his unceremonious firing by the studio. For Color Out of Space, Stanley reminds us why he used to be a film wunderkind and it’s a shame he was out of work for so long.
(We’d also be remiss not to mention that SpectreVision, the studio that produced Color Out of Space, originally hired Stanley to create a trilogy of movies based on Lovecraft stories, with the second one purported to be an adaptation of The Dunwich Horror. However, as of 2021, SpectreVision has severed ties with Stanley after allegations of abuse were levied against the director by several of his ex-partners. Yikes.)
We’d be remiss if we also didn’t mention Nicolas Cage’s superb performance in the film. Noted for his outlandish, often hammy, acting, Cage brings energy and madness that is befitting a Lovecraft character’s foray into the insane. It’s not a case of being so bad it’s good (like Velocipastor); this movie is good, period.
Of course, being a Lovecraft story, many people left Color Out of Space with mild confusion: what exactly happens at the end? We’ll try to explain it, but fair warning: this is just our interpretation of a crazy, insane, and beautiful film.
Color Out of Space, Explained: The Premise
Color Out of Space tells the story of the Gardner family, led by Nicolas Cage’s Nathan Gardner, who moves his entire family away from the hustle and bustle of city life and into his father’s quiet, rural farmland. Nathan tries his hand at Alpaca milk production, while his high-powered wife Theresa (played by Joely Richardson) tries to maintain her job as a financial consultant after a recent mastectomy (the reason for their move from the city to the country).
The family is rounded out by daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), who practices Wicca with the hope of restoring her mom’s health, and sons Benny (Brendan Meyer), a teen who secretly smokes pot, and Jack (Julian Hillard), the youngest.
The film starts with the family struggling to adapt to their new environment, and while the dysfunction exists, we’re treated to a pleasant portrait of an American family. The horror starts, however, when a bright, impossibly-colored meteorite lands in the Gardner property, causing strange, unearthly events to start occurring on the family’s farm. It’s kind of Like DC Comic’s Superman, but definitely not as pleasant.
We’re not going to go too in-deep with the story synopsis, just in case some of our readers haven’t seen it. If you’ve yet to see the movie, stop reading now.
Color Out of Space: What’s Up with that Ending?
At the film’s climax, Nathan has succumbed to his insanity and has been shot dead by the local Sheriff of Arkham, Jack and Theresa had fused into a monstrous amalgam (shot dead by Nathan before it could kill Lavinia), Benny falls into the well, and only Lavinia and the good-natured hydrologist Ward are left to deal with the full aspect of the Color.
As the Color grows in power, it takes Lavinia and shows Ward a horrifying vision of its home…planet? Dimension? It’s not entirely explained, but we’re treated to classic Lovecraft imagery: strange landscapes with impossible geometry filled with eldritch tentacles radiating pure malice too strange for the human mind to consider. Ward breaks free and tries to hide in the family’s home, and the Color wreaks havoc on its surroundings. Eventually, it explodes in impossible light and sound, leaving the Gardner farm desolated in white ash.
In a monologue some time later, a visibly older Ward is seen smoking a cigarette on top of a dam, the same one that was discussed throughout the film. He says that he is still unsure about the events that transpired during that strange time, but at the end of the day, he sure as hell won’t be drinking the water from that place ever.
Color Out of Space, Explained: But What Does it All Mean?
As with all Lovecraft stories, Color Out of Space plays with our primal fear of the unknown and the madness that comes with trying to understand that which we’re not supposed to understand. The Color is neither man nor creature, and its sentience is debatable. However, one thing is certain (and it’s explained by Tommy Chong’s character): the Color is bent on transforming its surroundings into something resembling that of its native planet or dimension.
This plane of existence, wherever or whatever it may be, is so horrifyingly alien, so incomprehensible, that it turns everything it touches and influences into nightmare versions of itself. But does it do this to subjugate humanity? To take over our world? To establish itself as our rulers? We will never know, and that’s exactly the point.
Richard Stanley plays these classic Lovecraftian themes to the letter, with the Color’s true intentions (if it has any) never being revealed; in fact, keeping in line with the original story, the Color itself is never truly beheld. Rather than some traditional monster, the Color is a hellish amalgamation of sentient lights that are supposed to emit other-worldly and heretofore unknown colors.
At the end of the day, the real horror of Color Out of Space is this: the destruction of the Gardner family, their land, and their excruciating descent into madness could happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It’s only a matter of luck that the Color landed on their property, but what if it landed in yours?