Die Farbe (2010)

*. H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Colour Out of Space” has been frequently adapted for the big screen, but what I find interesting is that it has traveled so well, in time as well as place.
*. As with so many of Lovecraft’s best-known stories, it’s set in the eldritch environs of the New England town of Arkham. In Die, Monster, Die!, however, the cursed farm is moved to England, and a gothic, moorland manor. In The Curse we go back to the U.S., but Tennessee instead of Massachusetts (in a film that was an Italian-American production, with a strong Fulci flavour). Colour from the Dark is set in Italy during the Second World War, while Die Farbe takes place in Germany (and also, partly, in the 1940s). In Feed the Light (the most recent, and by far the loosest adaptation) we’re in a warehouse in Malmö, Sweden.
*. I guess it’s just a universal tale, so these adaptations are sort of like setting Hamlet in the Himalayas or The Tempest in outer space. And like all such universal tales it has a certain amount of elasticity. About the only thing all of these movies have in common is something coming from space that has a toxic effect on the environment, including humans. Such a basic premise can be made to cover a lot of ground.
*. That said, Die Farbe is a remarkably faithful adaptation of Lovecraft, keeping most of the original story with only a few cosmetic adjustments made for the different setting and a slight twist at the end. But overall I think it’s the closest thing we have to “The Colour Out of Space” on screen. Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi, quite an eminent authority, calls it “the best Lovecraft film adaptation ever made.”

*. The signature conceit is that it’s a black-and-white film with the only instances of colour being that of the alien force. This is represented as a kind of bright pinky mauve, and most of the time doesn’t appear that threatening. It does have one creepy appearance though, where it makes some uncomfortable snacking sounds.
*. The sense I had was that this was less of a traditional horror film and more something in the “weird” genre. Adding to this is Huan Vu’s direction, which gives the proceedings the feel of a Denis Villeneuve film. It has that same spirit of quiet dread infusing it, and it builds slowly but effectively to a couple of stand-out moments.
*. I mentioned Joshi’s judgment that this is the best Lovecraft adaptation ever made. I haven’t seen them all, but from what I have seen I’m inclined to agree. Though I immediately want to rush to add that this is setting a very low bar. The only competition I can think of would be Re-Animator, which has very little Lovecraft in it. I don’t think much of the other Lovecraft adaptations I’ve seen.
*. Is it so effective because it stays closer to the source story? I don’t think that’s it. The thing is, it’s both the most faithful adaptation of “The Colour Out of Space” there’s been and the most original. Other adaptations have been content to take the story in more traditional directions, like the old haunted-house version, or the It Came From Outer Space template. Vu disposes of convention in offering his own imagining of Lovecraft’s story, coming up with something wholly new in the process.

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