Nicolas Cage continues his eclectic late-career collection of projects with “The Paranormal” (known as “Color Out of Space” internationally), an adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s short story “The Colour Out of Space.” The movie also marks a return for writer/director Richard Stanley, who hasn’t helmed a fiction feature since 1992 (!).
In “The Paranormal,” Cage plays the patriarch of the Gardners, a family recently transplanted to a remote farm in Arkham, Massachusetts. His wife Theresa (Joely Richardson) is recovering from a mastectomy while battling breast cancer, and daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) is aching for a return to civilization, even turning to Wiccan-like rituals to help things along. Meanwhile, older brother Benny gets baked, helping his father out with tending to their alpacas, and youngest Jack gets doted on. Hydrologist Ward (Elliot Knight) is doing a survey of the water table for the planned reservoir and meets the family, and is on hand to inspect a meteorite that falls out of the sky onto the Gardners’ front yard. The glowing rock may be radioactive, but it apparently contaminates the groundwater and strange things begin occurring.
True to Stanley’s prior films “Dust Devil” and “Hardware,” “The Paranormal” is very much a cult film, the kind they used to air on cable at midnight. It might not have a huge budget but makes up for it in other ways. Fans of Lovecraft should have fun spotting some of the references (like Ward’s Miskatonic University sweater and Lavinia’s copy of the Necronomicon), and Stanley does one of the better Lovecraft adaptations thus far.
For some of the creatures, he shoots around them in bits and pieces, allowing audiences to assemble the horror in their imagination, somewhat akin to Lovecraft writing about his otherworldly presences by describing what they were not. He uses some psychedelic/trippy lights and color with other sequences, giving things an eerie vibe and further enforcing things taking a strange, dangerous turn.
Cosmic horror can be tricky to pull off, and Stanley and crew do it on multiple fronts: smaller horrors build up to a crescendo of descending madness and a feeling of inescapable inevitability settles in, coupled with a rising synth score and Nicolas Cage going Nicolas Cage on us. It might not be pedal-to-the-metal Nicolas Cage like he was in “Mandy,” but the gradual becoming-unhinged Cage does here is a welcome entry to his oeuvre of out-there performances. The beginning third, alas, is a little too slow a burn, but once things start going badly the pacing finds its footing. Occasionally there is a scene or two where human behavior is unrecognizable, and these can jolt you out of the story, and it would’ve been nice if they dwelt on the promising horrors of having “lost time” messing with people’s senses, but other sequences make up for it with body horror and an atmosphere of dread.
Hopefully it doesn’t take as long for Stanley to make another feature; based on “The Paranormal” we could do with more directors willing to go full strange, inspired by the delirious imagination of writers like Lovecraft and performers like Nicolas Cage, who never met a challenge he didn’t enjoy.