Beyond the Black Rainbow: Review
As a die-hard horror hound, I am often subjected to my horror brethren complaining about the state of the horror genre. That we are bombarded with unoriginal ideas and more remakes than you can shake a bloody machete at. While I certainly agree that the mainstream output when it comes to our beloved genre is sever-ly lacking, there is however hope fellow fiends. Magnet Releasing, the genre division of Magnolia Pictures, has been putting out high quality and boundary pushing genre films for the past few years. Some of my favorite films of recent memory carry the Magnet logo, films such as: Let the Right One In, Hobo With a Shotgun, The Last Circus, Rubber, I Saw the Devil, and Timecrimes. Bottom line is, if Magnet is on the cover, I am going to stop and take notice. With that I am very happy to report that, Beyond the Black Rainbow (the debut film by Panos Cosmatos, the son of the director of Rambo: First Blood Part II,
Sylvester Stallone, George P. Cosmatos,) is another in a long line of modern classics released by Magnet.
Beyond the Black Rainbow most certainly has a familiar aura about it. Those that are David Cronenberg fan boys such as I am, and worship at the altar of such films as Scanners, The Fly, and Videodrome will be in sci-fi/horror heaven, or hell as it were, for its 109 minute psychedelic journey. While Cronenberg’s early output seems to be a huge inspiration for Cosmatos, there are a couple other films that came to mind numerous times during the film. Altered States, starring William Hurt, and my personal favorite film, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s, The Holy Mountain, are most definitely in Cosmatos’ film collection. BTBR, however, while wearing its influences on its sleeves, has a wholly original vision which is achieved through a mind-bending visual style that left me in a euphoric trance.
The screen is black as night, the music swells, and we travel back to the year 1983. A video cassette is placed in a player and we are introduced to Dr. Mercurio Arboria, founder of the Arboria Institute. He has found a path to happiness, contentment, and inner peace, and the Arboria Institute is the path to those fundamental human desires we so long for, but so rarely achieve. This sought after bliss can be yours via their unique blend of benign pharmacology, sensory therapy and energy sculpting. Simply put the Institute will put you on the path to a new, better, you.
Intro credits roll and we find ourselves trapped in a terrifying pulsating eye, our aural senses are assaulted by a sound that can not be accurately described with written language. We now see a human eye reminiscent of the blue sky above, though as the camera pulls back we can see the sorrow and pain behind it. We have just been introduced to, Elena (Eva Allan), our female lead and patient at the Arboria Institute. After our first taste of the intense imagery that permeates the film, we are subjected to a burnt umber hallway. We watch a tweed blazer clad Barry Nyle (Christian Bale lookalike
Michael Rogers,) our new head of the Institute, make his way slowly down it, he stops, the camera cuts tight to his face, and we are already creating an image in our head of the man that he is. Elena sits near comatose in a chair straight off the set of A Clockwork Orange, as Barry attempts to interview her, to rather lackluster results. It becomes obvious from this simple “interaction”, that Barry looks at Elena not just as a patient, but much more. As we move on in the film we are given a much larger piece of the picture. We begin to see Barry’s true nature, what he is capable of, and what brought him to this point. With that said we also see the need for Elena to escape this madman, and confines of this twisted prison she currently inhabits.
While the plot of BTBR is quite strong, the star of the film is without a doubt the visual style that we are treated to. I found myself in complete awe of the images that were dancing on screen and entering directly into my third eye. Throughout the course of the film I kept wondering if that nice gentleman, Albert Hofmann, had slipped me something. It should be noted that if a straight forward narrative is something that you require in a film for maximum enjoyment, you may want to look elsewhere. Films by directors such as Jodorwosky, Lynch, Svankmajer, and Fulci fill my collection so it is no surprise I adored this film so much. I am a very into cinema as a moving piece of art and can watch films simply for that aspect so I was right at home. Depending on your taste, you might not be so forgiving of a lack of cohesive narrative.
Without a doubt the visuals and overall look of the film are front and center, and the strongest point of BTBR, but I do want to touch on some of the other extreme positives of the film. The music and sound design are absolutely top notch and had me immersed in the world Cosmatos was creating. I had the opportunity to see the film two times, once at home, and once at a midnight showing in a theater. Both the visuals and even more so the sound are leagues better in the latter setting. It is a shame that most will not get to experience the film as such. Aside from that I want to make mention of the black humor sprinkled throughout the film. It works quite well when juxtaposed against the serious tone of the rest of the film.
I also want to shine the spotlight on the performances in the film. Eva Allan, a relative newcomer, puts in a seriously mind blowing performance and does so without a single word spoken throughout the course of the film. She does so simply with facial expressions and body language which is a huge accomplishment. It is really sad that genre films are never recognized by the mainstream awards crowd as I feel Eva deserves at least a nomination. Maybe a year end FYF awards ceremony is in order? Michael Rogers, not to be outdone, brings forth a chilling performance as the psychotic head of the Arboria Institute. As the film unfolds, his character unravels, and we watch his sanity slip, it becomes quite clear the range that Rogers possesses.
Of course all reviews here at Following Your Fears are spoiler free but I do want to dance around the final act of the film. At first it may feel as if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, really everything style wise seems to get thrown out the window of a moving vehicle. Upon further dissection however, it makes complete and total sense and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The film spends its time building toward a crescendo, and when you finally get there it is somewhat anti-climatic to what you might expect, but is completely suited for the film and I found myself loving it even more on my second viewing.
For those that spend their time crying foul to the direction of horror and genre cinema I submit subject A, Beyond the Black Rainbow. A film that while an amalgam of many revered films, has a voice all its own, and is a complete package of psychedelic cinema unlike anything you have ever witnessed.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is set to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 11th and it comes with my highest recommendation. It can be purchased at this link.