Nicolas Cage is a rare talent. He’s starred in dozens of bad films, but no film has ever been made worse by his presence. He has the extraordinary ability to give a performance exactly as good (or as bad) as the film he’s been cast in — so when he happens to be in a great film, he shines.
Cage’s latest project is one of those great films. “Color Out of Space” is hallucinogenic film adaptation of the H. P. Lovecraft story by the same name. It features Cage in the starring role as Nathan Gardner, a dorky dad slash alpaca farmer faced with extraterrestrial forces. When a glowing meteorite lands in his front yard, Nathan and his family (a financial advisor wife fighting breast cancer, a neo-pagan daughter, a stoner son and the obligatory creepy kid) begin experiencing inexplicable phenomena. Meanwhile, hydrologist Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) tries to find a scientific explanation for the strange happenings. As the Gardner family’s property turns into a technicolored Silent Hill, our heroes race against time to escape an otherworldly horror.
It’s exactly as weird as it sounds, but Cage manages to take this oddball movie from bonkers to brilliant with an unhinged performance that complements director Richard Stanley’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to filmmaking.
“Color Out of Space” has a lot going on, and not every element necessarily belongs in the same film. Plot points include an off-the-grid conspiracy theorist, daddy issues, water pollution, blood rituals, corrupt politicians and a scene involving Cage aggressively taking bites out of misshapen tomatoes. Interspersed with chillingly beautiful special effects and stomach-churning body horror are quirky one-liners and humorous scenes that often feel out of place.
Even with the sheer amount of insanity going on, there are moments that drag. The first 20 minutes are all but devoid of tension, although I will admit that it’s a pleasure to watch Cage wander around in a slouchy dad cardigan bickering with his family about alpacas. After that, the pacing continues to be uneven until the electrifying conclusion.
Fortunately, the good far outweighs the bad. For one, there’s not a bad performance in the film. Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage. It can’t be easy holding your own with Cage as your scene partner, but Joely Richardson (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) is excellent as Nathan’s put-upon wife, Theresa. Madeleine Arthur (“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”) is particularly compelling as teenage witch Lavinia. Brendan Meyer (“The Guest”) as Benny doesn’t get as much to work with as his on-screen sister, but what he does get to do, he does well. Child actor Julian Hillard (“The Haunting of Hill House”) is alternately adorable and unnerving as the youngest child, Jack. And Elliot Knight (“Titans”) provides a refreshingly restrained performance to counterbalance the rest of the madness onscreen.
As for the inimitable Nicolas Cage, it feels like a cop-out to compare his performance to Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” but I almost can’t avoid it. Of course, Cage isn’t doing Nicholson — he’s doing Cage, as if he has any other choice — but it’s a similarly successful casting choice. Throughout the first 40 minutes of the film, Cage feels woefully miscast. As much as I love any excuse to see him on the big screen, he came across as a little too unstable to be convincing as a semi-functional husband and father. But when the movie descends into madness around the 60-minute mark, he’s fully in his element, and it’s an absolute joy to watch. He doesn’t just chew the scenery; he devours it. His line delivery feels completely arbitrary. And like any good Lovecraftian horror, his actions are completely incomprehensible to man. Whether you want to call it good or so-bad-it’s-good, it’s certainly one of Cage’s more memorable performances.
If you plan to see “Color Out of Space,” it’s worth seeing in theaters. One of the film’s biggest appeals is the staggering visuals and impressive sound design, which deserve to be experienced on the big screen. And like most horror movies, it’s a lot of fun to watch with an audience. It has jump scares to scream at, disturbing your fellow patrons, as well as many laughs throughout. Not to mention, it’s a genuinely creepy film that’s enhanced by a darkened room, a giant screen and an overpriced soda.
Of course, “Color Out of Space” is destined to be one of those films — like “The Lighthouse” or the conceptually similar “Annihilation” — that divides its audiences. Some will find it brilliant. Others will find it baffling. Both are probably right. But if you have a place in your heart for pulpy, artsy horror with a dash of Cage Rage, it’s a wild ride worth experiencing.