The score launches with a creepy, gooey miasma, as if some lugubrious extraterrestrial force were seeping into our soil and souls. And as a matter of fact, it is! The glissandos and rustlings of opening set piece “West of Arkham” seal the deal. Colin Stetson is developing an affinity for horror, as proven by Hereditary and now Color Out of Space. Famed filmmaker Richard Stanley has returned to direct the Lovecraft tale; the director is still known for the now 30-year old Hardware and for being fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau (which was probably a good thing). The new movie stars Nicolas Cage, which might be a warning sign to some, but early reviews have been positive. Ever since Mandy the actor has shown that he has a handle on bonkers, and this is that sort of movie.
The piano and strings of “The Gardners” sound more like a classic film score, setting up a bucolic scene. All seems tranquil in the household, yet the strings waver just enough to imply a turn of the screw. By “Contact,” the threat has entered the frame. There’s no more denying there’s something wrong with the strings. Crunching, recessing, surging, and twirling, the instruments tumble on the edge of a maelstrom ~ or in the film, a hole in the ground. Stetson implies a fog horn, a spider-like scuttling, a landing, a lift-off. Only in the final half-minute does he pull back to allow for a bit of wonder. The film is about a mysterious color, something difficult to imitate with sound; but by incorporating different sounds, Stetson sparks the synesthesia.
The brief “Dinners Ready” includes the rising tone of a clock, which ratchets the suspense ~ but not as much as it would have a couple years ago. The use of clock sounds in the scores for Dunkirk and 1917, combined with multiple trailers for film and TV in which a protagonist repeats the words “tick tock,” has dulled its effectiveness. It’s more a butter knife than a carving knife, but it can still cut.
The shape of the score is easy to trace: three longer tracks at the beginning and three at the end, with shorter, seemingly incidental pieces between. Fortunately, these shorter pieces do more than repeat prior themes. “Alpacalypse” (apart from having a fantastic title) is one of these, providing rungs of rising tension. The album climaxes in “The Color,” an electronic pulse battling a buzzing drone. “Reservoir” is a seesawing coda, so we’re not sure who wins; we’ll need tickets!
The reception of the film should be interesting to track ~ it’s nowhere near a wide release, but it doesn’t have much competition in the January market and shows signs of being a potential cult classic. Even if it leaves only a light magenta trail, we’ll likely remember the score. (Richard Allen)