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.

Longing and Only Lovers Left Alive

Jim Jarmusch is an interesting man.  I don’t claim to be an expert on him by any means, but  films like Stranger Than Paradise and The Limits of Control left me loving the feel and scope of his vision, getting an almost artistic buzz after watching them.  My favourite Jarmusch film hands down is Ghost Dog:  The Way of the Samurai.  This quiet film brings a sense of beauty and zen to the assassin, and he does the same for the vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is an innovative musician who is also a reclusive vampire.  He lives in a secluded, tear-down of a house in the tear-down city of Detroit, and with the help of a human Ian (Anton Yelchin) for music supplies, and a jumpy hospital lab tech (Jeffery Wright) for his blood supply, he is able to exist with little disturbance.  Melancholy seems to rule his life of late, making him contemplate his existence and his disdain for humans, or “zombies” that are destroying the world.  Eve (Tilda Swinton) is his wife and at the moment, she lives in Tangiers.  She is a sensual being, soaking up books and atmosphere, and seems to be content with getting “the good stuff”, or choice blood, from non other than the 16th century poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe himself (John Hurt), who has survived the ages as a vampire.  They are all satisfied with sipping their blood from tiny sherry glasses because they are far too civilized to hunt their human meals.  After a disturbing video chat with Adam, Eve comes to Detroit to check in on him. Adam and Eve appear to the outsider as the coolest junkie couple you will ever meet, wearing shades at night to shroud themselves from the everyman.  They are the ones that if you engage, you just may be in a heap of trouble, but their seduction is irresistible.   They proceed to chill out in true vamp style and live an introvert’s dream; reading, debating philosophy, playing music, getting their blood fix and sleeping in a heap like sophisticated feral junkie children, until Eve’s bratty sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) shows up, throwing a wrench in their well oiled machine of solitude.

Sound boring?  Perhaps a tad Anne Rice-y and formulaic?  Well it’s not.  Jarmusch is known for making films of a slower, more contemplative pace and what he creates here is a sweeping and moody anti-horror movie.  With a beautiful colour palette and the comfort of cluttered sets, he wraps you in a cocoon of an introverted, isolated world that only the characters and the viewers understand. But make no mistake.  There are plenty of intellectual inside jokes and lots of dry humour that still makes this a classic Jarmusch film.

His “casting” of Detroit as a backdrop was genius for this particular story.  It mirrors the life the vampire couple used to have, a life of innovation and progress that becomes antiquated as the world forgets and moves on.  Adam has fans that seem to personify the hipster fueled gentrification, a tainted blood that tries to pump life into an ancient body.  It’s a world where the “zombies” defile artifacts of a glorious past.  Pay attention to the scoring too, but not only because Jarmusch wants you to.  The director and musician creates Adam’s spacey compositions with his band SQURL, and the action is accented by the beautifully enchanting and dreamy sounds of the lute from composer Jozef van Wissem, who won best score for the film at Cannes in 2013.

And I must talk about Tilda Swinton.  I think you all know how much I love her.  She is like a gorgeous alien who can morph into any character.  From her style to her attitude, she is truly mesmerizing.  Her waifishly sleek Eve was calm and calculating; glowing on the screen like an alabaster phantom.  Tom Hiddleston was lazily lethal and brooded with a Jim Morrison-esque intensity, and I loved the reference to Christopher Marlowe, whom John Hurt played so well.  Honourable mention goes to Anton Yelchin as Ian, who exuded a sweet naivety and obedience that amplified Wasikowska’s predatory and petulant Ava.  The costuming and sets were beautifully done, from the rock star vampire tousled hair to the retro-modern wardrobe; from Eve’s walk-up in Tangiers to Adam’s old school recording studio complete with beautiful vintage guitars and a faded red velvet divan fit for any aging rock star, and all of this captured by D.O.P. Yorick Le Saux who meticulously frames each scene to give us precise shots that are pleasing to the eye.  This is a thinker’s vampire film, with nary a CGI effect, save for some fangs and fast hands.  If you want to step outside of the typical  vampire box, I’d suggest Ganja and HessKiss of the Damned, and Only Lovers Left Alive for an interesting triple feature to experience indie vampirism at it’s best.

As someone who has had to examine her own mortality more than once due to very unfortunate circumstances, Only Lovers Left Alive was very poignant for me.  Their desire to stay under the radar and not bring any attention to themselves as life marches on is betrayed by an ultimate longing, bringing them together to steel against an impending doom.  When faced with the question “Is this all there is?”, Adam and Eve give us solace in knowing that yes, maybe “this” is it, but enjoying the moment before it becomes a memory is our mortal goal.

[Orignally published on Rosemary’s Pixie]