SUB-GENRES: Drama / Horror
DIRECTED BY: Panos Cosmatos
WRITTEN BY: Panos Cosmatos
PEW PEW: Watching the hour hand move on a clock is a more action-packed experience.
CAT FOOD: It is possible that this film contains a multitude of social commentaries. The fact that everything is so cryptic begs one to come up with their own theories.
If you don’t know me by now, I’m a stickler for powerful narrative and exciting, entertaining pictures, so Beyond the Black Rainbow presented to me quite the challenge. Normally, a film with a high rating from me will have great entertainment value, and this one absolutely does not hold to that. Against my better judgement, I’m sure I’ll lead many people astray with the review I’m about to put down, so I do apologise in advance if you decide to watch the movie based on its high score alone and end up wasting an evening.
The film’s backstory maintains that Dr. Mercurio Arboria created the Arboria Institute in the sixties in order to use science to help people get in touch with the spiritual world. In other words: many, many drugs… Fast forward to 1983: Arboria’s protege, Dr. Nyle, has kept a mysteriously silent girl in captivity below the institute, probing the girl for emotional responses and using a device to suppress her apparent telekinetic/telepathic abilities. Over the course of the film, we find out that Nyle is quite mad and that the girl, Elena, really should get the fuck out of there.
So, I’m going to tell you straight up, this movie is bloody brilliant and it’s going to get a high rating from me, but that rating is going to come with a warning: The film contains little to no real narrative and it plods on at half the speed of smell for most of its duration. There is almost no enjoyment to be had if one watches this film to be entertained. This is one of those rare occasions where I give a high rating to a film that is pure art and almost no movie. If I were to stick to my guns, this film would have a maximum two star rating, but I just can’t bring myself to do that to such a fantastic work of art.
Why is this one different? Sure, from a story perspective the film is boring as shit, but good heavens, the picture is absolutely stunning and the soundtrack is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Presenting itself as the lovechild of Kubrick and THX 1138, and later with heavy dashes of eighties films like Manhunter and the works of John Carpenter, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a veritable orgy of sight and sound. With a basic palette of reds, blues, blacks, and whites, the film is disarmingly beautiful and mysterious most of the time. But there are several disturbing sights to be beheld, and they are creepy to say the least.
The film’s score, composed and performed by the brilliant Jeremy Schmidt (a.k.a. Sinoia Caves) sells the eighties vibe and is an absolute joy to listen to, even apart from the film. While the score is minimalist and synth-based, it contains subtle and breathtaking melodies that add to the majesty of the picture. At times, also, the jarring, John Carpenter-esque synth really sells the horror aspect, particularly in the film’s penultimate chase scene. This is quite honestly the greatest complete score, front-to-back, I’ve ever heard in a picture. Absolutely awesome.
Perfectly punctuating Beyond the Black Rainbow’s overwhelming eighties feel is the SSQ synthpop song “Anonymous” which plays during the end credits. The stark red titles on black background in the credits sequence is something astonishingly 1980s as well — even the design of the Chromewood logo at the end.
At the centre of the extremely threadbare plot, is the origin of Dr. Nyle’s madness. It is captured in a flashback that is filmed in high contrast black and white. When he is dosed with the drugs, we are presented with the film’s most exceptionally gorgeous sequence — but be warned, it also leads to one of its most disturbing.
The acting is brilliant on all counts. If you cut the script down to just dialogue, it’d probably only take up half a page, so most actors have to rely on body language to sell the thing. Eva Allan and Michael Rogers give first class performances as the two leads. Their final meeting in the outside world is surprisingly anti-climactic, but it also says so much.
Which leads me to my final point. The film forsakes narrative for more of a sensory experience, but it is absolutely rife with imagery that brings up the possibility of many themes. Everything is so cryptic and veiled that it is hard not to at least attempt to put your own theories as to the film’s meaning into play. In this way, Beyond the Black Rainbow is entirely engaging, even if you sit there for two hours repeating, “What in the actual fuck am I watching?!”
I’m also a sucker for a nice ending. Some might call this one’s weak, but it remains consistent with the rest of the storytelling and brings things nicely to a close.
So yeah, I’m giving the film the next to highest rating I can give a film, because it is a spectacularly gorgeous example of the pure art of filmmaking. But do take into account that Beyond the Black Rainbow is absolutely a trial and ordeal to get through and should not by any means be a casual watch.