Stanley's Color Out of Space is more Lovecraft than Lovecraft's Color Out of Space

Title Stanley's Color Out of Space is more Lovecraft than Lovecraft's Color Out of Space
Author Tom Chick
Posted in Movie reviews
When March 21, 2020

Warning: if you haven't seen Color Out of Space, this review is basically one big spoiler.

Colour Out of Space is an odd fit among H.P. Lovecraft’s works. It’s about ordinary people – farmers, to be precise – on whom something fell…

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So glad this got the front page treatment. It really does need to be seen to be believed, though I’m very grateful I got to experience the incredible soundscape in a theater.

The director of the 2010 movie was Huan Vu, Tom. You spelled his name 3 different ways in a single paragraph and really messed up my ability to google him.

Ugh, thanks for the heads-up. That was clumsy. It was one of those things where I just let fly as I was typing and intended to check the correct name before publishing. And then didn’t. :(


Absolutely! I got to see it in theaters twice. Next to 1917, it was one of the movies I’ve seen this year that makes the case for actually going out to the theater.


It’s such a mesmerizing movie, especially once things get really going. It’s imprinted on me and it won’t be going away any time soon.

I would also add that Richard Stanley’s first two movies, Hardware and Dust Devil, while obviously representing a much less experienced and mature stage in his life, are still very much worth seeking out. The basic concepts in both aren’t anything especially new or different, but his sensibilities transform that material into something really special.

We were also pretty blown away by the movie.

It is incredible how they managed to achieve this “otherworldliness” in all the details.
Amazing direction in even the smallest of details.

As final actions go, I thought Ward throwing the cigarette into the water was perfection. I felt like he was giving off “ecological activist” vibes early in the movie. But he’s also someone who thinks science is important in improving our relationship with nature (which can alternately serve and inspire us if we serve it in kind). The cigarette is a symbolic gesture, sure. But his little glimpse behind the veil (which isn’t just what he sees through Lavinia at the end of the movie but the entire series of events, culminating in that) has destroyed that, in perfectly Lovecraftian fashion. So now he smokes, and now he holds those waters in contempt; they’re polluted.

Great review, Tom!

From “get me out of here” to “I live here.”

This is Lady Bird’s epiphany about Sacramento as well. Different genres, same coming-of-age character arc.

I found this really helpful to read! Working on the story structure with my students two weeks ago, I was arguing for Nathan as protagonist while almost all of my students chose Lavinia. Now that I see this epiphany moment, I like her as protagonist better.

Tomorrow we’re having our first remote, video conference class and I’ll take a few minutes to revisit the Color Out of Space discussion. I’m planning to set my Philips Hue lights in my office to VERY PURPLE.

Excellent read, @peacedog. I didn’t quite know what to make of Stanley focusing on Ward smoking and then flicking the butt into the lake, but that’s perfect. Thanks for posting that.

I think I was too focused on the voiceover, which I adore, and the Ward Phillips actor, who I thought was really good. He had to go from inconsequential surveyor to puzzled scientist to heroic rescuer to sanity-blasted witness to numbed survivor, and he hit all those notes without ringing false at any point along the way, and with relatively little screen time. Dude’s a Brit, wouldn’t you know?

Ooh, that must have been a great discussion. I like your “coming of age” take on Lavinia.

The argument for Nathan as the protagonist is certainly fair. He’s the nexus of the connection to the Gardner patriarch, who looms large in the background. The house belonged to the Gardner grandfather, and presumably Nathan escaped at some point, but has returned to “reclaim” it from his father. Who will gradually “reclaim” Nathan over the course of the movie. Posses him, actually. Is the Gardner grandfather somehow related to the centuries-old evil in those hills and vales? It’s also worth nothing that the two oldest Gardner children carry tokens from the grandfather. Lavinia’s compass, which Ward ends up with. And Benny’s goggles, which he dons just as the color is swallowing him up. Stanley leaves all this in the background behind the freaky alien stuff, but it’s definitely there, and it all flows through Nathan.


Yes! We talked about the goggles but I forgot the compass was grandpa’s as well. Someone brought up The Shining and “You’ve always been the caretaker here.”

I think it’s one of those movies like Thelma & Louise where there are two very strong main characters who share the story but I don’t like to allow the idea of two protagonists. Lately I’ve been trying to teach it as “one protagonist at a time” for those rare exceptions where it’s difficult to determine who the main character is.

But we do meet Lavinia first and all of your ideas about her inviting or calling down the meteorite with her ritual are really interesting. I thought the climax was Nathan banging on the wine cellar door when everything goes KABOOM but, as I said, I’m now leaning towards Lavinia’s “I live here” epiphany that paves the way for her third eye opening, knocking Ward down, and taking in the purple tornado as the climax.


I didn’t either at first. Reflection on the movie kept taking me to various pieces of background storytelling and I felt like this was another example of that. There’s almost as much going on in the background as the foreground.

I watched the Color yesterday, and didn’t quite get “it”. But it will come. Usually, when I really look forward to a movie, I get a bit “let down” because my imagination wants it to be this and that and soemthing else. And when I watch it, it is of course not what I was looking for. Happened to me with Mandy, which I quite like now after rewatching it and coming back to it.

The Color felt to me to be basically the meltdown of the core of a family. A lot of horror movies have this theme, no? I wish I had watched it in the cinema.

Speaking of meltdown of a core. I then watched the first episode of Chernobyl, and boy, that was some pure horror. It made me almost physically feel sick. So I had a fun evening in my self isolation.

For me, there’s a rich Lovecraftian subtext in Chernobyl. We talked about it a bit on the Chernobyl podcast, but the bottom line is that the Chernobyl series is what Lovecraft would be in a post-nuclear age.

Jeeze, that podcast was less than a year ago? Things sure have changed suddenly. :(


that scene when the families with their kids go out at night and watch the cherenkov effect was really something.

The movie begins with a voiceover, accompanied by deliciously eerie footage of the woods.

For a second I thought that was an underwater footage, and then he started talking about the new reservoir…

The last 15 minutes + Elliot Knight + smoking + that cigarette saved this movie for me. What I’m trying to say is that the ending was perfect.

We stared too deeply into the heart of the atom…

*possible spoiler alert?
Finally saw this and really enjoyed it, but couldn’t help but be reminded of annihilation, as it seems to hit alot of the same notes. Part of me wonders which one did the horrific cosmic indifference thing, tie ins to cancer better and the morphed ecology better, which kind of soured me to colour out of space a bit (I absolutely adored the scenery in annihilation along with that doppleganger of the protagonist at the end).

On the other hand, I feel like the director simply did a really good job adapting the source material. (at least from what i’ve read about lovecraft. I hadn’t personally read any of his works funny enough lol)

At the end of Annihilation isn’t the shimmer land…destroyed? In Color of the Space, the color just peaces out back into space on its wild eldritich-light moondream galaxy tour of the universe. Maybe it went to go fuck up some Mi-gos on Pluto or something.

Hoo boy. Talk about a fantastic adaptation. I can’t think of a better updating of Lovecraft, and I was on my guard because this is my favorite Lovecraft story.

A catalog of things I loved: Madeleine Arthur–she’s so expressive and sympathetic in this! Also liked Elliot Knight. Tom is right that he really does a remarkable job spanning a wide functional arc in this. Tommy Chong was great, too, and that last scene in his house could have been a pointless sidetrack, but I think it does important work enriching the mystery. I won’t say I exactly “liked” it, but the sounds of the mom and kid when they were… transformed were absolutely gut-wrenching. I bet this movie has really messed up its share of husbands and fathers. Lastly, that brief journey that ended with the structure in the same shape as the one on Lavinia’s forehead was just flabbergasting. Oh! And the absolute MVP of the film was Colin Stetson and his score!

Has anyone seen it multiple times? I’m curious about the voice that Nic Cage does when he briefly loses touch with reality. Is it just Nic Cagean overacting? Is it the voice of his father? In one of the spells, I could have sworn he sounded a bit like Donald Trump? Am I nuts?

What I haven’t seen discussed here is that besides the themes of toxicity in family life and toxicity in our relationship to nature, there’s an additional valence of the toxicity of technology. Of course the television regales the Gardners with mesmerizing images as they go more and more mad, but I was particularly struck by the sounds over the phones when they can’t connect. Lavinia even says she hears her dad yelling at her, even though he’s calling because he’s worried about her. It’s a blasted heath of communication.