The Color Out of Space and Richard Stanley’s Return

It’s been some time since we’ve seen something directed by the infamous Richard Stanley, once slotted to helm the tragic Island of Dr. Moreau, now the subject of a popular and mythical documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau by David Gregory. While he’s been writing screenplays, Color Out of Space is the first film Stanley has directed since 2013, and guess what? It’s fabulously strange, creepy and, yes, colorful for so many reasons.

Nathan (Nicholas Cage) is a father and husband who, needing to get away from the big city, decides to take over his deceased father’s farm and make a go of raising alpacas, the animal of the future. His wife (Joely Richardson) is recovering from breast cancer and trying her best to deal with high powered clients on a farm via Skype and sketchy internet service while trying to raise her teenage children:  Wiccan-obsessed daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), nerdy Benny (Brendan Meyer), and her youngest, Jack (Julian Hilliard). There also might be a problem with their water supply, so a handsome hydrologist Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight) checks out the surrounding area and also takes a liking to Lavinia.  When a meteor crashes onto their front yard, a strange series of events occur, and it’s up to Nathan and Ward to figure out what might be transpiring as this alien object slowly changes the landscape and all their mental states.

Color Out of Space was an efficient treat and my only TIFF viewing this year. With pacing that unexpectedly ramps up, stunning visuals and a whole lotta Cage, Stanley shines with his director’s hat firmly in place. Along with my rage-daddy Cage, the entire cast was excellent from little Hilliard to the charmingly nuts Tommy Chong as the resident mystical weed man Ezra. Adapting a story written by H. P. Lovecraft so that it’s relevant in these times is not an easy feat when this particular story has been done a few times over the decades, but Stanley, along with his long-time collaborator and writer Scarlett Amaris, manages to do it while broaching current environmental issues. I also loved that the film’s narrator, played by Ward’s character, is black, perhaps a thumbing of the nose to Lovecraft’s notoriously racist views.

Brendan Meyer, Madeleine Arthur, Julian Hilliard, Nicolas Cage, Richard Stanley, Joely Richardson, and Elliot Knight at an event for Color Out of Space (2019)

The digital effects were stunning and I’m glad I was able to see it on an IMAX screen even though the film wasn’t shot in that format. It really emphasized the colors and landscape well, immersing the viewer into this special world of madness. For the record I know there are comparisons to Alex Garland’s Annihilation, but to be honest, I prefer Color Out of Space because although it’s also a visual spectacle and an environmental morality tale of sorts, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  And those of you who want some practical effects will not be disappointed. Stanley serves up some mutant creepy crawlies that will surely make you squeal with delight.

I highly recommend seeing Color Out of Space, not only to celebrates Stanley’s return to the director’s chair, but also because horror never looked so good.

See You Yesterday Taps Into Sci-Fi and the Black Lives Reality

Netflix does it again by taking a chance on representation. In the tradition of classic TV series like Sliders and Quantum Leap, Stefon Bristol’s first feature film See You Yesterday combines time travel, mistaken identity and black family bonds for a strong sci-fi debut.

CJ (Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Crichlow) trying to figure out time jumping.

CJ (Eden Duncan-Smith) is a brilliant Brooklyn high school student and along with her best friend Sebastian (Dante Crichlow), devises a time travelling, or temporal relocation, machine. After a few technical glitches, they successfully jump to the day before. When her brother Calvin (Astro aka Brian Bradley) gets killed by police due to mistaken identity, CJ thinks she can change his destiny by jumping back in time to save his life.  

Expanding on his short film of the same name, Bristol gets major points for giving us a black female protagonist who is determined, ambitious, intelligent and extremely likable, as well as a heartwarming take on the West Indian community in Flatbush, a loving brother and sister relationship, and a single mother family that lost their father while he was in the army, not by any crime. He shows us everyday life in Brooklyn for black folks, from visiting the neighborhood bodega to being harassed by the police.  The characters seem real with Duncan-Smith, Crichlow and Bradley showing an easy chemistry that transitions from light banter to intense discussions well. Bristol was an intern for Spike Lee, who also produced the film, and you can see Lee’s influence in an homage to his “double dolly shot” and the social commentary narrative, but Bristol has created his own vision of young black Brooklynites in jeopardy.

There will be obvious comparisons to Jordan Peele’s recent Twilight Zone episode, “Replay”, starring Sanaa Lathan. Here, she plays a mother who wants to document her son’s arrival at college with her vintage camcorder only to realize she can rewind the device to go back in time and save him when a racist cop guns him down. Both stories deal with the daily fears of black people being pulled over, interrogated and killed because of the color of their skin. Both deal with strong women who refuse to take the fate doled out to so many innocent black men in this time of protest, but where Peele made an effort to show blacks conquering, Bristol aims for a sobering and open-ended resolution.

The look and feel of the film is deceiving. The wardrobe is hip and young, representing a DIY style of kids on a budget.  A squeal-inducing cameo by one of the original time travellers Michael J. Fox as CJ’s science teacher Mr. Lockhart, the bright, summery cinematography, and strong, witty language seems like a formula for fun, but Bristol has made a teen sci-fi film for this new age of awareness.  This lightheartedness changes tone abruptly to mirror life when you first realize your world isn’t impervious to the outside terrors of violence. Even though this film is speculative and fiction, for those of us who have lost someone when we are young or naïve, it’s a reality. This may not please a lot of people because the film also ends abruptly, but it’s all too real because in this current climate, there aren’t a lot of black families who get their happy ending.

CJ racing against time.

See You Yesterday is streaming now, so do yourself a favor and see it for a perfect representation of how black people continue to create their own narrative. It gives us a wonderful black female character, the message of both despair and hope, and a story that could easily be continued as a popular Netflix series.