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  • Writer's pictureCurtis Mcilvaine

Color Out of Space (2019)

My favorite Lovecraft story had a film made about it! And one that isn’t half bad either.

Lovecraft and his stories are fascinating usually more so for what they are trying to invoke rather than the content itself. Lovecraftian horror, I posit, rather than being about the fear of the unknown, is about the fear of the unknowable.

If gods exist, and they appeared before man, would we even be able to comprehend their presence? Or would we go mad at the sight? Are we intended to know them? Or are we simply byproducts of a far grander existence?

That is Lovecraft. It’s a fear of existence and its meanings. Dread, and mania, at the onset of perceiving something beyond ourselves.

It’s an ambitious horror sub-genre, and quite esoteric. So, sadly, it doesn’t always work. It inspires highly personalized experiences, where one story will mortify one person and bore another. The same goes for films.

The 2018 film “Annihilation” springs to mind. I felt it was very Lovecraft in tone, and had some cool scenes, but the whole of the film was a mess. Then seeing the reviews? All over the place.

To be clear, there are generally well-liked films with Lovecraft elements, but they tend to be somewhat distanced from those themes specifically. I have always claimed “Alien” and “The Thing” to be somewhat Lovecraft, and while those themes are present, the majority of the film is more so about the tangible horror of a monster.

This story however “The Color Out of Space”, was one of the few Lovecraft stories that hit right for me. So, when a film about it comes, I am intrigued.

To summarize: the story is about a meteor landing in a country farm. The family investigating and seeing it as “a color”. Not solid, liquid, or gas, but pure color. It seeps into the ground, infecting everything alive within a certain area. It poisons them, mutates them, drains them of their very being, until nothing is left.

To give insight into how this came into being and how it relates to those themes from earlier, supposedly the inspiration for this story came from Lovecraft learning about the spectrum of visible light, and how there were more colors beyond what we can see. To which given a literal interpretation, comes this story. An alien color destroying the minds of simple men.

And the movie isn’t half bad. 6.5/10 seems fair to me. Not a fantastic movie but certainly more good than not. But I find myself frustrated with some aspects of it.

The first half of the film feels very generic. The characters do the basic horror trope of being annoying or mean when they can’t be interesting. The visuals and cinematography are mostly pretty good, and once it gets going in the second half, it’s fairly engrossing.

In college I took a few film theory courses, wherein we discussed the two big segments of film theory: Realism and Formalism.

Realism is all about creating a film as close to reality as possible. Long shots, few cuts, very minimal music, leaving the story to interpretation.

Formalism is effectively the opposite. Creating a very subjective world with many artistic choices made. Visual effects, music, quick edits, and often very direct interpretations.

I bring this up because I felt Lovecraft often translated poorly to film when done straight. The stories would wind up feeling like a walk through bizarro land but little else.

What I thought would make sense, would be to create an extremely realist film, that then shifts entirely to formalism at the reveal of the Lovecraft traits. Think like the shift from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz, but cranked up to 11. A film with wide and long shots, suddenly shifting to quick edits and closeups.

In fact this story specifically would’ve worked great in black and white, only for the color itself to actually be in color, slowly saturating the rest of the poisoned life throughout, but leaving the rest in monochrome.

While this isn’t what the film did, what it did do was have a tense story told with visuals and effects clearly inspired by “The Thing.” And not failing to deliver a spooky time.

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