DIRECTED BY: Panos Cosmatos
FEATURING: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Nory
PLOT: Within the depths of a mysterious, retro-utopian health clinic, a troubled psychologist attempts to treat a silent young woman with telekinetic powers, but she keeps trying to escape.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Weird story, weird characters, weird weird visuals: Beyond the Black Rainbow definitely has weirdness in spades. At times it is overly self-satisfied in its ambiguity, but overall it’s a strong psychological thriller that revels in the bizarre.
COMMENTS: Opening with a creepily soothing informational video reminiscent of something out of the Dharma Initiative, Beyond the Black Rainbow immediately sets a dark and cryptic tone. The kindly Dr. Mercurio Arboria believes he has created a center for peace, understanding, and mind-opening advancement of the human race. Years later, his haven seems deserted, with only the mute and magical Elena seen in its cells. She is quiet but tightly coiled, ready to burst both mentally and physically. She holds Dr. Arboria’s protégée Barry Nyle in deep sway, but her importance to the institution is unclear. Through a surreal and unforthcoming flashback sequence her connection to Dr. Arboria and Nyle is expressed, though her telekinetic abilities remain something of a mystery. Her eventual escape prompts Nyle to take serious action.
Writer/director Panos Cosmatos draws from trippy horror-thrillers of the 70’s and 80’s to create his mood, with flashes of Altered States, 2001, Scanners, and the like. The pace is measured, with asides to Nyle’s dreary home life paired with closer views into the stark, enigmatic complex of Arboria. White walls intersect in a maze of cells and hallways, black panels reveal hidden objects, colored lights and energy pyramids glow in the dark—all while eerie synthesizers pulse over the soundtrack. The close shooting style lends the film a claustrophobic, tense atmosphere that is increased as the visuals become stranger and more abstract. Psychedelic colors swirl and coalesce, while a cult ritual is acted out in severe black and white and uncanny slow motion. Mutants in latex suits roam the hallways, and, oh yeah, heads explode!
As supposed psychologist Barry Nyle, star Michael Rogers wears his own face like a mask—impenetrable and unreal. His manner is cool and calculated, whether he’s murdering his own mentor or talking to his confused wife. His sadistic, violent nature is fully revealed through physical transformation, resulting in a chilling slasher chase during the film’s climax as Nyle hunts down Elena. Elena herself starts off as a typical waifish victim, silent and impassive. As her anger and determination rise, she becomes more self-assured and by the end is definitely a character to root for, a new-age Final Girl who values her freedom more than her revenge.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is in some ways high-minded and inaccessible, but its gorgeous and dreamlike visuals combined with its haunting electronic score and intriguing premise make for an engrossing and all-around weird experience. Its horror-thriller undertones and 1980s influences are well-incorporated, though some of its actual story/script elements are messy.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…unless you’re among those who still drop acid as a midnight-movie apéritif, your enjoyment of this retro oddity remains far from guaranteed.”–Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times (contemporaneous)