Nicolas Cage is a wild one. It is quite impressive how he’s made the second half of his career a showcase in picking the most obscure roles imaginable. He’s wrestled bees, tried to kill his children, and set his skull on fire. And none of that was as weird as Mandy (2018). His latest starring role is as the patriarch of a very bizarre family in Color Out of Space, a low-budget sci-fi thriller that banks it’s fortunes on the eccentricity of it’s cast and some incredible effects work.
Our first taste of these characters comes when we meet Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) a teenage girl who dresses like a witch, casts rituals, and rides near her parents’ home on a white horse. I haven’t made up a single word. Her father, Nathan Gardner (Cage), is a different flavor of strange – a meek cornball whose awkward demeanor is followed up with even more awkward flirtations with his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson). Rounding out the family are Lavinia’s two brothers, both of whom are so forgettable that it’s a slight miracle that their parents remember to feed them.
But the family’s routine life is upended when a meteorite crashes outside their home. As the characters try to analyze the situation, it just so happens that Lavinia’s crush, Ward (Elliot Knight), is a hydrologist and is capable of analyzing the rock. How convenient. In the aftermath of this incident, we bear witness to strange happenings and bizarre behavior. If you’re paying attention, it becomes apparent immediately who in the family has had their personality altered in the wake of the crash landing.
Once all of the necessary table setting is finished, the film soars. It is essentially a sci-fi horror/thriller right out of the 70s and 80s, with modern special effects, but a craftsmanship that stays true to those old classics. In terms of visual style, John Carpenter’s The Thing may be the most obvious comparison. In that vein, Color Out of Space may have some of the best practical effects in years. Not only is the prosthetic work top-notch, but they have a profound impact on the story when we see characters in unique circumstances that underscore the terror that has descended upon this small group of people.
The film isn’t without CGI, but director Richard Stanley adeptly melds multiple methods together to help tell the story in the best way possible. The outstanding technical work extends beyond just the special effects. The score sets the mood without ever drawing attention to itself, while the sound design is woven into the background of every scene without ever being bombastic.
But technical aspects aren’t the draw for a film with Nicolas Cage on the poster. If you’re here to see Cage chew the scenery, you will not be disappointed. We start off with appetizers – he drinks milk from an Alpaca, then later he sings in that patented Nic Cage style. When Nathan’s behavior begins to alter, Cage predictably turns the dial up to 15. At one point he tells his own daughter “Get the fuck out of my sight… actually, I’ll save you the trouble, AND GET THE FUCK OUT OF YOURS!”
What helps keep the film fron going off the rails is the fact that Cage is the only cast member that is hamming it up. The rest play things straight, which means no one detracts from Cage’s performance. Madeleine Arthur is the standout in the supporting cast, lending her performance true weight and sophistication in a movie centered around aliens and absurd human interactions. She comes off as authentic, which is notable considering that the script isn’t always subtle (one scene in particular features a joke about the female anatomy, that is then explained as if we wouldn’t have understood the joke).
Despite how uneven the writing is, including a final moment that probably belongs in the deleted scenes pile, Color Out of Space is a lot of fun. You can tell the level of care that went into making this film, despite a conservative budget. Meanwhile, the cast is well-rounded enough to never let you question how silly the story is, even if some of the characters are broadly drawn. It won’t win any Oscars, but it will likely take it’s rightful place as a cult hit among film aficionados. And the film’s existence continues Cage’s run as having the wierdest, most eclectic filmography of all time. We wouldn’t have it any other way.