Movie Review – Beyond the Black Rainbow
July 15, 2012 9 Comments
It’s as if Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick got together, had an orgy, and the end result is this glorious mess of a film. Now that visual of some of the most eccentric and masterful directors of our time might not be the thing you want to think about, but it would be mild compared to what director Panos Cosmatos brought to life in Beyond the Black Rainbow.
I have been torn on the issue of whether I liked the ultra-sensory, depraved throwback film Beyond the Black Rainbow or outright loathed it. To say the least, the trailer is a thing of beauty. Precisely cut and paced, temped perfectly with a John Carpenter score of Moog Synthesizers and hard underlying visual feast that leaves you with a taste for more. I could watch the trailer above like 20 times, but what I found hard to watch was the actual movie itself. I guess I had high expectations with the trailer, hoping to just be blown away with a magnificent looking throwback film to the late 70s and early 80s science fiction horror. I was hoping for the visual delights, but also for a bleak, oppressing movie that challenged me with a narrative that played upon dystopian thoughts with sound, thematic structure. What I ended up getting is half of a good film and half of a terrible film.
oSitting through this 110 minute movie (20 minutes longer than it should have been) left me with two things: one is that I feel like I need to take a shower after the hyper-violent and stylized nature of the film. The second thing is that I don’t even remember what the plot of the movie is or what it was aiming for. I can tell you that the film is set in 1983 during this quasi-futuristic world in the Regan Era of politics, we are set in this New Age institute called Arboria. There a doctor Barry Nyle (Michael Rodgers) is conducting therapy and medicine on a patient named Elena (Eva Allan). Elena is apparently in possession of incredible psychic powers, controlled by Nyle through the use of a pyramid bathed in light. Nyle is hoping to gain Elena’s powers as he is slowly losing control over his mind because of a shit ton of psychedelic drugs. And then, I don’t know what else.
A lot of this is unbelievably difficult to put into words as Cosmatos dives head first into a psychological challenging film that dabbles more in visuals rather than the story. It gets lost in the miasma of lucid images of death, violence, horror and some of the most impressive cinematography I have seen in years. What is lacking is story telling and direction, or more so someone to rein in the creativity of Cosmatos that runs rampant throughout the movie. I couldn’t tell you the resolution or what it all means in the end, but it just serves as a small piece of the movie which just throws scene after scene of visceral imagery at you for no apparent reason. That’s the bad of this movie, a story that doesn’t go anywhere and too much creative freedom that lends itself to vividly, churning images of the institute and the denizens of the place.
That is my biggest complaint of the movie itself, the lack of direction that is supposed to carry us through the movie. Instead we are carried through, kicking and screaming, the movie with brilliant looking imagery and fantastic, evocative settings. This is the positive side of the coin as Cosmatos, cinematographer Norm Li (the real star of the movie itself) and composer Jeremy Schmidt who sets a hauntingly, hypnotic mood that is reminiscent of early Carpenter all pull you into this horrific world. Beyond the Black Rainbow managed to suck me into this moody world of fluorescent glowed patient halls, track lighting adorned floors and trippy color schemes. It’s a beautifully deranged film to watch, eerie in it’s warm glow of hazy, colored hues matched against stark, institutional white rooms. But in this impressive world of the Arboria Institute houses some unique and bizarre inhabitants. From giant “Sentionauts” who are the enforcers of the institute to abominations of experimentation, Cosmatos fills the screen with a buffet of visual atrocities that are weirder than the next. I think it is done so to mask the lack of story and narrative, but then again this movie is more of a visual pleasure, as deranged as that may be.
So this is where I am at with the movie, visually it is truly one of the most eye pleasing (depending on your tolerance for visceral images) and arresting movies that captures the essence of the directors I mentioned above. Kubrick style directing and visual flairs, paired with the off-the-wall esthetics of Cronenberg and Jodorowsky. The music, which is just perfect, compliments that dark, brooding dystopian mood that Cosmatos is looking for in the quasi-futuristic world he has created. But the visuals can only carry a movie so far without some compelling narrative and toning down the overuse of visuals. I look forward to seeing what Cosmatos can do for his second film. I would want a bit tighter, leaner film in terms of length as the 110 minutes run time is a bit much with so much sensory items to take in. Cutting out 20 minutes would have made it tolerable for what you are seeing, but more storytelling is needed to make it better. Fantastic in concept, visually well executed, although sloppily handled in telling a story, Beyond the Black Rainbow should only be seen by those who want to have an acid trip, but don’t know where to score the drugs.
Rating: 2.5 drops of acid out of 5
*images via RottenTomatoes