What can I say about Beyond the Black Rainbow that hasn’t already been said about licking toads while watching a 70s slasher flick behind your neighborhood scientific research compound? Writer/director Panos Cosmatos’s deranged trip down the rabbit hole feels like Cronenberg and Argento furiously impregnated a robot named TARKOVSKY.
It’s homage at its highest form – work born directly from the visual and storytelling tropes of iconic artists that manages to feel brand new with the presence of a fresh personality. In the 80s-set film, and stop me if you’ve heard this one, Elena (Eva Allan) is held captive in a research facility by Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), the demented product of a cult-like program born two decades earlier that sought to merge science and religion. As he slowly deteriorates mentally, blood starts spilling, but even if Elena gets a chance to escape, she’ll have him murderously on her trail.
The pace of Black Rainbow is deliberate, a slow chill that works from the bottom of your spine to the back of your eyeballs over an hour and a half. It doesn’t place the highest value on dialogue, but when characters speak, it’s worth hearing. Instead, the impetus is placed most squarely on visuals that deliver a science-fiction version of the 1980s that feels ripped from films and filtered through Cosmatos’s cerebellum. The director delivers saturated reds and blues aside blended exposures to build a dreamscape inhabited by foregrounds that steal focus away from things just beyond their reach. It’s a fictional 1980s by way of 1970s auteur filmmaking style.
Fortunately, the film maintains a momentum instead of relying purely on its alien beauty. Rogers looks like someone stretched Christian Bale’s face to its breaking point, and his performance skills are as engaging as his look is magnetic. That goes triple for Allan who manages to steal scenes away from Rogers without even speaking. It’s his shoulders that bare the weight of the emotion, though, and he nails the part with a lunatic energy that lies always just under his skin. He seems constantly on the verge of sprinting across the room and ripping someone apart with his hands and teeth.
This is the brand of psychedelia that stands in direct opposition to the flower child, magic mushroom peace trip. It’s dark and disturbing, especially as we look into the sludge-soaked past of Barry and the institute’s founder Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands) and the creatures he’s made. The clinical highrise that houses most of the action has a decontaminated evil to it that feels simultaneously gigantic and claustrophobic. This of course only adds to the unease.
Eyebrow-raising is in full force with this film, a dangerous story that plays without regard for the audience’s safety or sanity. Absolutely beautiful from beginning to end (with extra kudos to DP Norm Li for making a dull break room look mesmerizing after an hour and change of stylized sumptuousness), it is a movie that’s part slasher, part Solaris and part wig-tearing frenzy. With his first feature Cosmatos has solidified himself as a talent to glue eyes to. Whatever he chooses to make next, I’ll be first in line for, because as days of thinking and re-thinking the movie have proven, Beyond the Black Rainbow can grab you by the ears until you know something.
The Upside: Considerable work that blends together the best of late 70s, early 80s aesthetic with a new voice at the microphone.
The Downside: This movie is the best example of whatever the hell it is. Finding a downside is secondary to finding out what that is.
On the Side: Enjoy the baby faces!