The Color Out of Space (2010)Directed by Huan Vu
Written by H.P. Lovecraft (story), Huan Vu (screenplay)
The Color Out of Space is a rare bird. Much like 2005’s The Call of Cthulu, it represents one of the stronger adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, remaining faithful to the original story’s essence while imagining it through a unique cinematic style. First published in 1927, the author’s short story of the same name has been twice adapted for the big screen, once with Die, Monster, Die in 1965 and again in 1987 with The Curse. This time around, German director Huan Vu gives us a moody, understated experience, filming in shadowy black and white and setting the events in a remote farming community in Bavaria; a departure from Lovecraft’s Arkham, Massachusetts which is given a passing nod in the opening scene.
Set in 1975, this version gives us Jonathan Davis, a young man whose father has gone missing. His attempts to track him down lead him to Germany where the elder Davis had been stationed at the end of World War II. Arriving in the remote village, Jonathan meets late-middle-aged Armin who remembers Jonathan’s father from an encounter 30 years prior. From here the film alternates between the present and the pre- and post-war eras as Armin chronicles in flashback a bizarre tale of a meteorite crash and its effects on the local soil and water. Not to mention the humans. The crash itself and the subsequent study of the strange, sublimating rock by a cadre of bewildered scientists is engaging in its deliberate sense of mystery. We’re absorbed in a classic sci-fi puzzle as the meteorite shrinks by the day and seems impervious to any substance that might reveal its composition. Once it vanishes completely, the creeps really begin. Nearby plants and crops start to grow to enormous proportions, but are rancid and inedible when harvested. Eventually a local farming family, the Garteners, begins to exhibit strange behavior as they withdraw from the community and only entertain visits from neighbor Armin. These scenes of the family’s unfolding isolation and dread are the film’s core and are skillfully presented using suggestion and restraint. A madwoman’s babbling is heard while the camera lingers on her shadow-shrouded, closed bedroom door. Dead frogs, birds and fish litter the surrounding land in a quiet montage. Trees, fields, and even the interior of the farmhouse are shrouded in a perpetual mist that feels both soft and suffocating in the film’s grey tones. Meanwhile a low whooshing sound hisses on the soundtrack to create a disorienting mood. These touches accumulate into a sense of menace and otherworldliness that reaches its height during Armin’s final visit to the Garteners. There’s a queasy body-horror that follows, if only in hints and partial glimpses, as the titular substance (the film’s German title is Die Farbe, meaning “The Color”), manifests itself. As effectively eerie as the film is, it does have its rough edges. Director Vu overuses cut to black between scenes that occasionally feel like they linger too long. The performances, though generally solid, suffer from some spotty late cues and wooden delivery. And this is clearly a budget effort, even if the black and white aesthetics mask the fact to a large degree: a number of landscape shots use lighting and foreground silhouettes to create a nice sense of unreality and artifice, for example. There’s also an unnecessary twist ending. The film’s biggest sin, however, is the somewhat tacky looking cgi that animates the alien effluence, a swarm of bright fuchsia that constitutes the only (and overbearing) use of color. Vu was undoubtedly going for major contrast, highlighting “color” in its most literal sense. Alas, the connotation is more cheer than fear. But don’t let some minor bruises stop you from enjoying this apple. It’s visually rewarding, engaging, and has a deliberate pace that works to its advantage, gradually building to an oppressive feeling of dread that lingers after the credits roll. So give it a watch if you enjoy slow burn horror. Watch it if you’re a fan of Lovecraft. Or watch it if you’re just in the mood for something unique and stylish. You won’t be disappointed.