The visuals out of space: A critical review of “Colour From the Dark” (2008)

I have always said that movies gotta move. Cinema is, first and foremost, a visual art form; the visuals of a film are the most important part, to my mind, with characters, plot and dialogue taking a close second. This theory has been tested, of course, time and time again, but my counterargument is always the same: Could this have been a book? A play? A painting? If so, why aren’t I observing it like that?

I am also very fond of H. P. Lovecraft (whose birthday it was the other week–I know, I’ll be more punctual next time, I swear), so when I saw a movie called “Colour From the Dark” at my local video store, I knew I had to give it a shot.

“Colour From the Dark”–as any Lovecraft vet can probably guess–is an adaptation of the 1927 short story “The Colour Out of Space.” Like so many adaptations of the tentacled one, there have been some changes made. What was New England is now Italy, and what was the 1920s is now smack dab in the middle of World War II. Directed by Ivan Zuccon and written by Ivo Gazzarrini, “Colour From the Dark” tells the tale of Pietro (Michael Segal) and Lucia (Debbie Rochon), honest Italian farm folk living on, well, a farm in Italy with Lucia’s basically mute sister Alice (Marysia Kay). One day, Pietro is digging around in the well trying to get water and unknowingly unleashing some-cosmic-thing from deep within the earth. The entity initially causes all the crops to grow to tremendous size, but soon it’s possessing various members of the family and causing them to do some unspeakable things to each other and to the neighbors; remember, this is an Italian film, so things go from bad to bloody in no time flat.

film does look good. Actually, the film looks really good. This is not a big budget movie by any stretch ( guesses around $100,000), but it genuinely just looks better than films with 10 times as much cash pumped into them. Director Zuccon–who doubles as the film’s cinematographer–clearly has an understanding of how things will appear on screen. Couple that with some excellent locations and a good sense of atmosphere, and you have a film that’s simply rewarding to look at. So if a film’s good to look at, and the visuals are the most important part of a movie, it must be a pretty good movie, right? Well, maybe not quite.

The film always seems like it needs a little…more. The dialogue is fairly lackluster, the sound tends toward murky, and the acting varies between “passionate effort” and “community theater.” But there’s more to it than that–or rather, less. Pretty pictures may be the most important part of a movie, but they’re supposed to be there to emphasize the point, and unfortunately, “Colour From the Dark” doesn’t seem to have one.

Lovecraft’s original story explored concepts like what a wholly alien life-form would look like and the gulf between urban and rural living, but none of that really comes up in “Colour From the Dark.” The malevolent entity is never really considered–is it alien? Supernatural?–and the characters are all farm folk, so there is no gentrified or academic counterpart to whom they can be compared (along with a change in setting, the film exorcises the university educated narrator and shrinks the action’s span to a week). Even some of the issues the film appears to ready raise never really get a chance. Setting the movie in World War II and tossing in some shots of Nazis killing fleeing Jews suggests that we’re going to get a “war is bad” message, but that never materializes. Likewise, there’s plenty of religious imagery, but the movie doesn’t do much with it. In fact, what the film does seems contradictory: A possessed Pietro suggests that God and the soul aren’t real, but a possessed Lucia seems mighty pissed off at crucifixes–methinks the lady doth protest too much. As a result, all those pretty pictures, while engaging to look at, feel a bit wasted.

There’s also some kinky sexual meanderings between Pietro and Alice after they get their possession on, which suggests some Freudian, Electra complex speculation, but it never really develops into anything…oh, wait, it’s an excuse to see naked chicks. I think I get the point of the film now. Never mind.

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