Nate (Nicolas Cage), his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), and their three kids, young Jack (Julian Hilliard) and teens Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and Benny (Brendan Meyer) have moved to Nate’s late father’s farm. To raise alpacas and grow tomatoes and peaches. Yeah, good thing Theresa is bringing in income; she has some kind of consulting job that involves talking to clients on Skype. Just the kind of thing you’d want to do where the wi-fi can be spotty. Then a color (it’s magenta) comes out of space and crazy shit goes down that puts their financial worries in perspective.
It’s based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. I’m not a fan (I think his stuff is as dry and boring as it is racist, and Stephen King has also pointed out how he had a tin ear for dialogue). But I like to be familiar with source material of adaptations, so I glanced over the original story. It’s from the point of view of Nameless Guy, who in the story is surveying the land for a reservoir. In the film, this character is named Ward (presumably after Lovecraft character Charles Dexter Ward), played by Eliot Knight, and is a visiting hydrologist (from Miskatonic University, natch). In the story NG is hearing an anecdote about the scary woods by Ammi (who in the movie is Ezra, a stoner who lives in the woods and is played by no other than Tommy Chong), who tells him how a meteorite hit a farm owned by Nahum, his wife Nabby, and three sons Merwin, Thaddeus, and Zenas.
The meteorite ruins Nahum’s crops and seems to mutate the local wildlife. Nahum’s wife goes crazy and crawls around on all fours. One by one the sons disappear. Some of this is retained for the movie, but a lot is changed, fortunately.
I expected it to be about a family encountering or even battling aliens, like Signs or War of the Worlds. Madeleine Arthur even bears a resemblance to Dakota Fanning. But it went more like Dark Skies, where none of the family members are guaranteed safe passage. But wackier. I read that Nicolas Cage was supposed to Nicolas Cage it up,
and indeed he does. There’s something oddly compelling about how cavalierly the family copes with the strange happenings. I was a little incredulous that when Theresa accidentally chops off two of her fingers to the first knuckle, Nate is walking her to the car, instructing Benny to get the alpacas into the barn by ten. Meanwhile, Theresa is muttering in mild astonishment that she could make such a mistake. When she comes home from the hospital the next day (this seemed to me an extremely short time, so I googled how long one can expect to be hospitalized for a finger reattaching, and apparently it really is 0-1 days), she’s bemoaning losing her clients. The more horrible things get, the more they pull together. Until they don’t.
I do have gripes, the biggest being clunky exposition. Lavinia introduces us to the family dog by announcing him as Benny’s partner in crime like she’s making a documentary. Or Nate rehashing to Theresa how the family relocated from the big city to the farm, even though she was there. In addition, there are random events that go nowhere, like Lavinia crying in her room after Theresa suggests that by wearing skimpy clothes and flirting with Ward, she’s sending him signals. My least favorite of the film, though, is that Lavinia is a Wiccan. She’s shown doing a ritual that’s fairly accurate, at least for the movies, but she has a stupid cape and she’s really annoying about it.
The movie starts out pretty slow, but once it gets going, it really gets going. It’s creepy and totally unpredictable. In one scene a jump scare made me do this weird surprised grunt. Not that it relies on jump scares. It’s classy like that. Check it out if you’re in the mood for something gorgeous and hallucinatory and haunting.