Falling somewhere within the cinematic matrix that includes, on one end, schlocky pseudo-intellectual headtrips like Zardoz and Phase IV, and, on the other end, legitimately psychedelic sci-fi experiments like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Ken Russell’s Altered States, Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow is a largely opaque, incredibly slow-moving, and completely blissed out experimental mystery that left me in a calmed state of discomfited wonder. This is not a film for the light of heart. This is not a film for your casual sci-fi fan. This is a film that saunters along at an intentionally maddening pace, meting out information in nibble-sized rations, teasing you with plot points, but hiding them as best it can, favoring, instead, lengthy and psychedelic asides that play like your third year film school assignment, provided you were the kind of film student that ate LSD by the fistful, and lived with a Nixonian level of paranoia.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is an uncomfortable film, and yet one that leaves you calm. It’s confusing, but you seem to know what’s going on. It’s anticlimactic, and yet it would be cheap any other way. There are so few films in the world these days that seem to be in and of themselves; films that are the product of a fevered mad auteur, stuck with a vision so batsh*t wonderful, they have no other recourse than to spill it out onto the screen in a somnambulistic orgy of shiny plastic, neo-‘80s-paranoia-thriller-cum-Daft-Punk-music-video aesthetics.
The film is about a young woman named Elena (Eva Allen) who lives in a plastic cell in a super-secret underground (?) laboratory of some sort. She is mute, and seems to be in a constant state of mild delirium. Elena is overseen by the flip and sadistic Barry (Michael Rogers), who taunts her, offers her pictures of loved ones, and keeps a weird, psychosexual journal about Elena in a hidden drawer somewhere in the building. Beyond the Black Rainbow begins with a 1983 promo video for a New Age healing center or some kind, and we slowly – very… very… slowly… – begin to realize that Barry just may be the product of such a healing center, and may have been… corrupted by it. Elena is, in contrast, a psychic wunderkind who may be the next step in human evolution… maybe. Her mind and her dreams seem to be kept in check by a glowing tetrahedron hidden somewhere in the building that Barry controls, and sometimes uses to harm his co-workers (ever seen Scanners?). This mystical supercomputer also seems capable of controlling the weather indoors.
As the film progresses, we learn more about where Elena is being held, and more shocking things about Barry. I could tell you what these details are and still not ruin Beyond the Black Rainbow, as this is a film about its smoky claustrophobia than any sort of plot machinations.
My goodness, the sound in this film! Everything moans with the hum of an efficient running computer, the synthetic heart of the plastic world we inhabit. The score sounds like the mad sibling of early John Carpenter guitar riffs. While the flickering red visuals and stretched extruded interiors of the film relay the intentional artificiality of enforced madness, the moaning unbalanced aurals of the film (think of a mentally disturbed Speak & Spell) are its oily, eyeless soul. Beyond the Black Rainbow is not a film to watch and ponder, but a wild thought experiment to be experienced and absorbed. Meditation will come later.
It’ll be a hard trip. So odd and off-putting is Beyond the Black Rainbow, that one may be tempted to come to the conclusion that it is unknowable. I suspect that many, many viewers will quickly lose patience with it, dismissing it as a hopelessly high-minded and intentionally pretentious “art” film. For those willing to lose themselves in the meditation, Beyond the Black Rainbow may prove to be one of the more rewarding and disturbing film experiences in many a year.
Beyond the Black Rainbow opens Friday at The Cinefamily in Hollywood, CA. It will creep around the country.