Friday, April 9, 2021

Color Out of Space (2019)

NOTE: Most of this was written soon after the movie was released, but I forgot about it and never finished it, so it's not exactly fresh in my mind and likely missing a few details I would have otherwise addressed/added. The nature of it will likely be somewhat fragmented.

Color out of Space (COOS) is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's short story Colour Out of Space (Yes, even though he's an American, he added the u because he's an anglophile). It stars Nicholas Cage, Tommy Chong, and a few other people I've never heard of—as always, actors are furniture to pad out the room and not worth listing in most cases, and they can be looked up here. The director is Richard Stanley, an offbeat South African-born director mostly known for sci-fi like Hardware and horror films like Dust Devil, as well as being sacked from directing The Island of Doctor Moreau remake in favor of the veteran director John Frankenheimer. I'll probably never understand Stanley's popularity among genre fans, but Hardware at least had inventive imagery and an interesting style, flawed as it was.

A hungover-looking/coked-up (his natural state) Nic Cage and the fat, nearly boomer-aged director. Who though it was a good idea to put the leopard collar on that jacket?

It would be expected that a figure with such tremendous influence would have more adaptations, but Lovecraft is often mentioned as notoriously difficult to depict on the big screen, what with the creatures appearing minimally or not at all, though the protagonist usually sees enough to be driven to madness by the sight of the entities that abound. But how can one effectively depict something so maddening in a plausible manner? The narrators of his works tell us what they experience, often burning the manuscripts or the artifacts they possess, for they represent forbidden knowledge the world is better off not knowing about. Though Lovecraft's writing can be flowery and overly descriptive, his works rely on prose more than story and many elements remain vague and adjective-laden, leaving the viewer to fill in the details more than the average horror fiction. Furthermore, many of the otherworldly environments sometimes visited by the narrator are described as "non-euclidean," and profoundly strange, and I don't think I need mentioned the incredible lack of creativity in hollywood filmmakers, as well as the high budget and risk-taking these efforts would require, when it's much easier to go with the standard horror formula. Perhaps some of the most successful direct adaptations would be Re-animator and Dagon. Other productions are clearly influenced by his legacy and are somewhat Lovecraftian as well, such as the visual novel Saya no Uta, the films Endless and In the Mouth of Madness, and several manga works by Junji Ito.

The acting and characters really aren't the selling point for a Lovecraft film or horror in general, just as the characters in his stories were little more than dour academics with minimal personality, simple character sketches for the sake of psychological breakdown and a descent into madness, or mere blank slates or ciphers in Lovecraft's fiction. Whether it was the modernist sensibilities of the time or the nature of pulp, this tendency held true for most of his work. 

The characters here are more fleshed out, especially compared to the family featured in the original story. They aren't especially sympathetic or interesting, but they're human enough to evoke more emotion than the average Lovecraft character, though certainly a bit on the eccentric side, especially Nicholas Cage with his ridiculous overacting (his signature) and alpaca farm, along with the occult shenanigans of the daughter, Lavinia. The youngest son just stares off into space most of the time, drawn to the well, a sort of altar place that Cage claims you can see stars within, if you gaze into the abyss long enough, and he seems to hear and see things beyond what the other characters can perceive, even drawing what appears to be an alien creature with similar colors as are seen in the corrupted environment; the oldest son plays video games and indulges in drug usage; and lastly, the mom is insecure and incompetently attends to some financial occupation via Skype. Unlike the original story, where the family is spoken of dispassionately, you can see them breaking apart here.

The only other notable characters are Tommy Chong, whose druggie antics are annoying and just as bad as all the Cheech and Chong trash, and the black guy, who, unfortunately, doesn't die first. I'll never understand how the "black guy dies first" meme was started, because just about any horror film I've seen, the black guy doesn't die first. Maybe Gremlins is an exception, and Spider Baby from 1968 is the one film I'm positive this applies to, with a black mailman being murdered in the first ten minutes (perhaps this scene even marked the birth of the supposed trope). The mayor is an annoyingly sassy, independent wamen, but she disappears early on, and the sheriff has very few lines.

Everything starts off well enough. There are many shots of a misty forest set to narration from the black guy, taken directly from the original story:
West of Arkham the hills rise wild. There are valleys with deep woods no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glimpse of sunlight. When I went into the hills and vales to survey for the new reservoir, they told me the place was evil. They told me this in Arkham, and because that is a very old town, full of witch legends, I thought the evil must be something which grandams had whispered to children through centuries. Then I saw the dark westward tangle of glens and slopes for myself and ceased to wonder at anything besides its own elder mystery.
After the narration is over, Lavinia is introduced, performing some kind of occult ritual (seems to be little girl occultism, AKA, Wicca) at the shore of a pond, invoking the names of angels to protect her, cure her mother's cancer, and whatever else ails her. She's not even slightly embarrassed when she's interrupted by another human. As the movie progresses she carves symbols into her body to ward off evil, and she also has a copy of the necronomicon that she bleeds all over.

That's just the kind of woman she is. Does she have anything to do with the family's unfortunate fate? It certainly seems like a sort of nod to Pandora's box or Eve eating the apple, but it's not clear if they are causally linked.

To spice the film up with some diversity, the black guy takes on a role similar to Ammi Pierce from the original story, revealing that he's a hydrologist, which we're reminded of many, many times. It seems to be his only feature, other than being black, of course. 

Why he wishes to survey the water supply is never really made clear: he just does. Given that evil is spoken of in the opening narration, it's possible he's curious if the legends about the location correspond with the environment—especially the water, his specialty—and don't you forget it!

In all honesty, Lovecraft is a rather controversial figure these days because of his racism, sexism, and whatever else is a dire sin in the eyes of the western world. Many of Lovecraft's stories, among them The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Thing on the Doorstep, concern miscegenation between humans and fish creatures, leading to an infernal and diluted race unfit for man to associate with, who worship dark, evil gods. There's also the more blatant racism in the language of stories like The Horror at Red Hook

In Stanley's words:
... I have issues with Lovecraft, like most folk. Lovecraft is also a racist and a misogynist, and there were issues which, although we never openly discussed in the context of the film, we wanted to address in the way that we went about adapting it... 
It's not just Stanley who has a stick up his ass about the views of a man from a very different era. A past award given to genre fiction featured a bust chiseled in Lovecraft's likeness, but it's no more, representing another casualty of the SJW agenda. 

It would seem casting a black man in the role as the surveyor/hydrologist is sort of an attempt to piss/spit on Lovecraft's grave, even to "correct" his improprieties—Stanley, like many other nerds snorting up horror and genre fiction, are humiliated that they love the artistic output of someone like Lovecraft, who didn't hold the destructive elitist values of today, and even expounds on his now-heretical views in his voluminous offerings.

There's meant to be palpable sexual tension between Lavinia and the black guy from the start. In one scene, soon after riding off on her stallion, Lavinia reveals to her brother that she finds the black guy cute, and when he appears again, she tugs him along by the hand, leading him to the meteorite—upon entering the house a few minutes later, the mother suggests that her daughter likes the black guy, stating she was practically throwing herself on him. At the table, there is the comparison of processed fast food and a home cooked meal, and she claims to love "mystery meat," a term that's likely a double entendre, for it can refer to food of an unidentifiable source, especially processed, but it can also refer to uncertain racial or ethnic origin, especially if the individual is of mixed race/ethnicity. To depict a man of a different race as a potential love interest and a white female lusting after him would have been revolting to Lovecraft, and this is obviously meant to spite him. 

This is a modern adaptation of Lovecraft's work, so I don't really take issue with blacks being present or holding positive roles in a very multicultural America. I think it's preferable for races to separate, to the full extent that it is feasible, and make their own visions that corresponds to their own race; this leads to far more organic art. That's not to say multicultural cinema must be eschewed altogether, but it's difficult to see how Stanley's intention was meant as anything but disrespect for Lovecraft, which is why I find the whole thing so sickening. Yeah, Stanley, go ahead and adapt the guy's work and just shit all over him and his views.

It also doubles as interracial propaganda. One can only wonder if the mother's probing was promulgated out of anxiety that she'd have to raise the mulatto child of an ill-fated pairing between her daughter and a black man, for these more melanated individuals are notoriously difficult to keep around as providers. Something like 60%-70% of black children are born to unmarried parents, usually without the father around, the care often being passed on to the parents or grandparents. As a general rule, interracial pairings of every flavor are less successful statistically than intraracial couples.

There's really no good reason to virtue signal about a white woman being the potential mate of a black man. The baby will not truly resemble either the black man or the white woman (and the say goes for other forms of interbreeding), and I can't help but think that most white and black relatives will be disappointed that the child does not look more like them, and that their child has bred with dissimilarity in mind rather than the more stable prospect of similarity. Similarity breeds liking and compatibility and bodes well for the future. There are a host of issues associated with having a mixed-race baby that has nothing to do with "social constructs."

Stanley is not the only creator responsible for this kind of more woke reinterpretation of Lovecraft. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle is a black man's reinterpretation of Lovecraft's most overtly racial story The Horror at Red Hook, which transforms into a typical pro-black and anti-white screed. 

Lovecraft Country, which I'm not very familiar with, is another anti-racist series adapted from a book of the same name, written by a self-hating white bugman/hipster-type Matt Ruff. As far as I know, it's not an adaptation, but it works with Lovecraftian themes in some way.

It's rather amusing to see creators increasingly adapting old works into woke garbage because they can't come up with new properties. Lovecraft's racist and xenophobic tendencies are actually the stuff that horror is made of, when you boil it down to its roots. Horror is about the fear of the unknown; of strange creatures that bump in the night. What, then, is a more potent adherence to the roots of horror than the racialism depicted by Lovecraft, the miscegenation, the tainted bloodlines and the despair that they so often bring? It's one of the most authentic attempts at horror, and it is more relevant than ever in the way it builds upon the real anxieties of racial replacement in the west. Given the black nationalism that is common amongst blacks, whether latent or not, I reckon they would appreciate their own black racialist horror—not the wokeness of a Ruff or LaValle, but the visceral disgust of their blackness being diluted by whites or other dissimilar races.

Anyway, the white horse Lavinia rides away on is named comet, alluding to the meteorite soon to plummet onto the family's farm. The horse itself would allow the daughter to leave the farm for the freedom and independence she so covets. As all women are wont to do in this barren feminist wasteland we've concocted for ourselves. 

Most horror films depict families with a seemingly normal exterior, with buried dysfunction underneath, and for the most part, COOS doesn't buck this trend; the patriarch preceding Cage's character was "intellectually abusive" and his presence lives on, for the property once belonged to him, the antique photograph is shown of him a few times, Cage speaks of him, and his children continue to hold onto their grandfather's former belongings—Lavinia has his compass that is "imbued with magical significance" for her rituals, and Benny, the elder brother, a pair of thick black goggles, which he dons against the glare of psychedelic, ominous purple light. They were formerly city dwellers, and they're returning to their roots; the divide is made most apparent with Lavinia's intense desire to leave.

An example of the lighting: purples predominate, but sometimes they work a greenish color in for some contrast.

The meteorite seems to break apart by the morning, just a fraction of the glowing lump in the photo, as if it's absorbed into the ground, and in similar fashion to the source material, it taints the environment, giving the crops an unpleasant taste and warping the forms of the animals and plants, the electronics all malfunction, and worst of all, the minds of those who dwell there. Time and space appear to become distorted. One might question whether this is an effect of the drugs abused by certain characters, but the fantastical elements become too entrenched for this reasoning.

The magenta-heavy psychedelic visuals are what make the film worth watching. It really looks unlike any other modern horror film. Usually they're very dark, drab, and frankly, quite flat. COOS has vivid, intense color. 

The characters become detached from reality in a way that kind of reminds me of the mind-bending nature of Solaris, but in a far more sinister manner. 

It's an interesting experience while it lasts, and the mysterious nature of the entity is kept about as unclear as one can expect for a Hollywood adaptation of an old horror story. The thing itself we never truly know or see—we merely see the havoc and corruption it instills upon the land and its people.

Ultimately, however, it feels a bit shallow. One of the more interesting visual interpretations of Lovecraft, but at least a partial misfire. Despite how wonderful the color looks, it kind of detracts from what should be a bleaker atmosphere and a palpable sense of dread, and there's far too much humor and quirkiness injected into the characters for it to ever be taken seriously. The humor was over played and made the production feel far too tongue-in-cheek. 

This is a pretty good example of how silly some parts of the film were, in retrospect.

I realize there are artists who are looking to adapt a work and add their own personal touch to it, but the whole point of Lovecraft is diluted here. It's about the atmosphere of dread, the smallness of humanity set against uncaring cosmic forces, and I'm not really feeling any of that here. If anything, the horrible existential plight of the human being so minuscule is diminished by the regular humor and Stanley's incessant need to humanize them to the extent that he has.

I'm not against an artist going in a wildly different direction, I just don't feel Stanley has made a memorable horror film, outside of the "trippy" visuals.

If there's one director—not that this would happen or that Hollywood fans would be interested in seeing it—who would actually capture a much of what Lovecraft conveyed perfectly, I think it would actually be the alienating acting, the lyrical camerawork, and slow pacing of Bela Tarr. The slow scenes would capture such dread, and his way of filming in such a detached manner would make the characters feel truly insignificant and small. He's a master of atmosphere. Of course, Tarr is probably too snobbish to want to adapt old pulp horror fiction, and he is, like most artists, quite the liberal cuck, who would probably scorn Lovecraft for his views far more than even Stanley. 

The film closes as such:
I hope the dam water that covers will be very deep, but even then, I’ll never drink it. There are only a few of us who remember the strange days now. What touched this place cannot be quantified or understood by human science, or our basic concept, our perception of reality. It was just… a color out of space. A messenger from realms who’s existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the ghost that it throws open before our frenzied eyes.

Unfortunately, this is too close to the actual story of the American water supply, that I can't help but quote this passage and think of how polluted the water is with toxic chemicals, arsenic, lead, fluoride, etc. It's also heavily irradiated. It's really difficult to drink truly good water without a reverse osmosis filter. Plastic water bottles are, of course, laden with tranny hormones and plastic is one of the most serious pollutants and environmental issues of the 20th-21st centuries—far above the climate change hoax, which is built upon a heap of lies, predictive models that are always wrong, and laughable "hockey stick" graphs, etc. Perhaps herein is where the true horror of the film lies—by the end, the big climax is over, and everything seems to have returned to normality, but the water supply continues to make everyone ill and the government is not going to do anything about it.

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