Beyond the Black Rainbow
2012. Directed by Panos Cosmatos.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is a film out of time, a bad acid nightmare that would have been right at home on the VHS shelves of the 1980’s. An exercise in personal catharsis for the director after losing his parents, Rainbow is an amalgam of surreal cinematic influences, that uses confounding and genuinely gorgeous alien aesthetics to present an unsettling exploration of what lies beyond the limits of the human mind.
Elena is a teenager who is a captive in a scientific prison underneath the Arboria Institute, a new age research company whose aim is to achieve transcendence through extensive indulgence in psychotropic narcotics. Her captor is Dr. Barry Nyles, Dr. Arboria’s heir apparent, whose mind and body were cosmically altered after a ghastly inter-dimensional encounter in 1966 that left Elena’s mother dead and Dr. Arboria in a fugue state. Nyles has become infatuated with Elena’s psychic abilities, believing they hold the key to the mysteries of the subconscious. As Nyles gradually slips into pure madness, Elena harnesses her preternatural abilities and attempts a desperate escape into an alternate reality in which the Cold War’s threat of nuclear extinction is but one of many horrors waiting in the darkness.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is jigsaw origami. The surface level is relayed through sharp angles and psychedelic colors that present Elena’s ordeal as a reverse Alice in Wonderland. Beneath the LSD convolution lies a subversive criticism of the baby boomer generation, presenting the casualness of the demographic as the Black Rainbow, a metaphysical point of no return that mankind had no place crossing in the first place. The theme of personal improvement and evolution pervades throughout the glacial narrative, with Cosmatos presenting strange technology, malignant psychic capabilities, and the bio-mechanical horrors of the Arboria Institute as the yield from foolhardy experimentation fueled by manic obsession.
Norm Li’s cinematography is jaw dropping, using a deluge of colors and framing techniques to give the Arboria Institute an otherworldly atmosphere that is simply unforgettable, evoking the compositions of Kubrick and Argento with skin crawling results. In particular, the 1966 flashback scene, shot in unfocused black and white is both terrifying and awe inspiring. Yes, the concession that many aspects of Beyond the Black Rainbow were taken from other films is undeniable. However, the way that Cosmatos assembles each nostalgic block into a psionic Jenga is pure, malicious brilliance. Within a few, precious minutes, you know you’re witnessing something truly different, the type of experimental voodoo that enraptures as much as it divides, and Rainbow is a prime example of one of these poisoned offerings.
Eva Allan conveys Elena’s torment as a form of telepathic bipolar, portraying a young woman whose entire life has been experienced through captivity. With only a lonely, unreliable television to keep her company, Elena fixates on the world outside and wishes only to be reunited with her father. Her chemistry with Michael Rogers’s Nyles is surprisingly potent, especially during the first therapy scene. Rogers’s gives a delirious turn with his villain, presenting Barry Nyles as the false prophet, a murderous prodigal son who maintains his human status through creepy cosmetics and a barely passable sense of endearment that sits atop a furnace of aberrant rage, epitomizing the film’s central theme that not only should man not seek to exceed it’s karmic limitations, but that success in such endeavors would only lead to a new dimension of unspeakable dilemmas.
Cosmatos’s script is filled with important details that will almost certainly be overlooked during an initial viewing. Astral communication happens through unplugged telephones, while an ominous Ronald Reagan monologue enshrouds Elena’s predicament. A disturbing diary contains the profane incantations of a madman and strange automatons, Sentionauts haunt the corridors of the institute, each of them baring a horrifying similarity to Elena’s child like visage. Almost every aspect of the film has an implied double meaning, electing to use limited dialogue and overwhelming visuals to construct a haunted house story told from the inside out.
Jeremy Schmidt AKA Sinoia Caves’s soundtrack is a synthesized love note to Tangerine Dream, one of the many influences on the film. Every song is perfectly applied to a specific segment, enriching the atmospheric occultation with an array of 80’s cult melodies. La Vonne Girard’s set designs, clearly influenced by Suspiria, present the interior of the institute as a post modern dungeon, filled with precarious open chambers that offer few places for Elena to hide. Kathi Moore’s costume design is devilishly simplistic, using a simple white dress for Elena and presenting Nyles as a shag carpet hold out from the institute’s free love origins. The Sentionauts, however, appear as crimson golems who remain suspended in their leather suits until activated, merging the deceptive mundane with the unnatural truths that lurk throughout.
Available now for digital rental, Beyond the Black Rainbow is one of the most unique films of the 21st century. From a distance, this movie is an extreme example of stylistic overkill for what appears to be a straightforward premise. However, if you’re patient with the slow burn allegory, Beyond the Black Rainbow has a plethora of dark wonders to explore, hidden among an eclectic blend of hallucinatory motifs and surreal horror. If you’re interested in a remarkably different, constantly elusive film, this is a one of kind viewing experience.
Highly. Highly Recommended.