Nov 26, 2012


I wish I were more familiar with H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve read only a sampling of his work – “Rats in the Walls” and “Re-Animator” – and, like Poe, found his prose to be simultaneously beautiful and antiquatedly tedious. I recognize both Lovecraft and Poe’s skills as literary legends, but perhaps it’s my simple-minded brain that keeps me from fully embracing their bodies of work. Regardless, they have my undying respect for contributing to the genre and elevating it with their presence.

Because of this, I had no real idea what to expect as I sat down to watch The Colour Out of Space. My exposure to Lovecraft at that point had been the aforementioned short stories, as well as other more modern fare that directly homages and honors the author, like Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, or Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond. Lovecraft writes of slimy, distorted, indescribable monstrosities from other worlds – both in a sci-fi as well as a more general horrific sense. Reading a quick summary of the original short story confirms that the film adaptation is mostly loyal, but obviously has to punch it up a bit to expand the story to an appropriate feature length.

Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise), of Arkham, Massachusetts (a popular Lovecraft setting), is investigating the disappearance of his father (Ralf Lichtenberg). This investigation leads him all the way to Germany, where he meets Armin Pierske (Michael Kausch), who recognizes a picture of Jonathan’s father…not the recent one he has been using to canvass, but another that depicts him as a young soldier. The two sit down as Armin begins to relate the tale of “the colour,” what it did to the countryside after it crash-landed out of space in a meteorite, and how his father comes into play. It would seem that this meteorite contained a radioactive element that caused nearby produce to double or even triple its size – and that's not all; insects, too, rapidly expanded, and bees grew to the size of rats. Lastly, its exposure to human beings left them in catatonic, near-mad states, and once that occurred, there was no redemption for them.

While I can’t speak for the source material (my assumption comes from Lovecraft stories with which I am already familiar), I am sure The Colour Out of Space unfolds in the same sense as the short story; meaning, it probably takes its time. The adaptation sure does – but not in a detracting sense. Like the types of literature and films its honoring, it unfolds one piece at a time, like any good mystery should do. And despite the horror and sci-fi presence, at its core the film is a mystery. Shot in black and white, it recalls the dreary and mystical world of film noir, made most popular during the early 20th century. This choice of black and white was not obvious to me right away – I at first assumed that the filmmakers chose a black and white canvas due to the completely unique aspect of “the colour” said to be wreaking havoc across the land. For a color that had no place within the earthly color spectrum, I assumed this was the filmmakers’ way of skirting such an impossible task as creating an entirely "new" color. I should have given them more credit. “The colour” does make an appearance, and it appropriately remains the only object in the film to be colorized – artificially, obviously, which definitely lends it a very unnatural appearance. No, the filmmakers chose a black-and-white palette to lend it a foreign and almost dream-like look. And it certainly works, at times coming dangerously close to recalling The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Admittedly, The Colour Out of Space did not grab me at first. I was interested in the story, but not invested. And unfortunately the scenes in which our characters spoke English (German is mostly utilized) sounded very tinny and echoey, as if the characters’ dialogue had been recorded in a phone booth. (The film is a German production, so perhaps the scenes featuring English dialogue were reshoots in order to make international sales more appealing?) I can’t imagine this was a purposeful choice, for if it was, there is no clear reason for it. However, I eventually began to lose myself in the story. As previously mentioned, each layer was peeled back to reveal a new development – the giant fruit, the monstrous bees, and catatonia of the nearby residents – and I found myself very intrigued.

If I had one word to describe The Colour Out of Space, it would be ambitious. Our filmmakers clearly did not have a very large budget, but their sprawling, international story feels bigger than life. What scant CGI effects there are look damn good and comparable to what you’d see in modern theaters, and because they are particularly placed throughout the script, the scope feels bigger in recollection. The direction by Huan Vu (a German Asian! I know! Crazy!) is well-assured, and at times even beautiful. The acting for the most part is more than satisfactory. A few minor characters have a couple lines that don’t sound at all convincing, but luckily our leads feel completely genuine. (You will stare at the young version of Armin Piersk and swear it’s Frederik Zoller, star of the fake Nation’s Pride in Inglorious Basterds, but you’d be wrong.)

Fans of Lovecraft would be missing out if they did not give this adaptation a try. Additionally, fans of film noir, German expressionism, sci-fi, and classic tales of horror should also check it out.

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