Reviewed by Michael Erb
Beyond the Black Rainbow is set in 1983 at the Arboria Institute; a New Age place for tapping into latent potential of the human mind. Young psychic Elena is being held involuntarily for study by the malevolent Dr. Barry Nyle, who’s testing the limits of Elena’s abilities. It’s clear that Nyle takes more than a professional interest in Elena, as it’s also clear that Nyle is not all he appears to be. There’s something boiling to the surface in the not-so-good doctor. It’s something terrible, powerful, and somehow connected to the healing processes of this mysterious facility. When Elena manages to escape Arboria, Nyle stops denying his true self and ferociously pursues her.
The debut film of writer/director Panos Cosmatos is audacious, paranoid, and deliriously creepy. While Beyond the Black Rainbow feels like an homage to influential filmmakers of the time (Kubrick, Croenenberg, Carpenter, and a dash of Argento), it becomes a unique film through its adventurous combination of those influences and an unwaveringly experimental vision. It’s not really a film so much as it is a sensory experience with a story.
This really isn’t a movie that labors on its plot, the visuals and the superb sound design do all the communicating needed. Beyond the Black Rainbow is filled with images that are both infinitely disturbing and achingly beautiful. Color is used to frame characters, with Nyle in shadows and bright reds while Elena is bathed in washed out white light. Both of the main characters have different visual styles to their own psychic activities, highlighting their own unique connections to this power. The Arboria security guard, called a Sentionaut, is a monolithic, sinister Daft Punk knock-off that gets so much worse when its true face is revealed. Nyle’s own drug fueled journey through the Arboria method is a vision of otherworldly hell and sublime ecstasy. There are so many moments in the film that are strikingly gorgeous and unforgettable.
The sound design is absolutely stellar and entirely essential to how Cosmatos tells this story. Eric Paul’s sound design and Sinoia Caves’ soundtrack make up the other part of the film’s language. There are distinct audio signatures to every action, environment, and character. It works with the wonderful shots to direct the tone of every scene and establish the mood of the movie. White noise from a television monitor never sounded so ominous. The soundtrack plays like the John Carpenter and Goblin had a dazzling, wrathful baby. It’s dark and synth heavy, setting the scene before anything even happens.
Michael Rogers is indispensable as Dr. Barry Nyle, turning in a haunting performance. He’s a pill-head sadist whose menace seeps through his disaffected droning. Yet somehow, Rogers conveys the wounded side of Nyle through some deep pain in his eyes. Nyle always looks like he’s just about to lose control but gain a sense of freedom. Eva Allen is the other important part of the movie as the test subject Elena. She looks like a scared rabbit in nearly every scene she’s in which luckily works in the film’s favor. Her reactions are convincing and help sell some of the bizarre situations she must endure. The supporting cast does some fine work as well; there isn’t a bad performance in here.
Watch out for Panos Cosmatos in the future, because this filmmaker is going to have an interesting career ahead of him. The story doesn’t spell everything out for viewers; you have to out a little work into figuring out what’s happening. However, those who do will find a rewarding sci-fi/horror hybrid. Its style is its substance and that makes the movie refreshingly welcome. Beyond the Black Rainbow shows Cosmatos is an artistic force to be reckoned with.
The picture is incredible even when it’s purposefully washed out. The colors are vibrant and the image is quite sharp. The sound is crisp and exquisite, showcasing the sound design of Eric Paul and the stellar soundtrack from Sinoia Caves. This disc does the movie justice on your home setup.
There aren’t many extras on the disc, just a handful of trailers and a special FX test of a melting head. They’re all fun to watch, but there should be more stuff here. The lack of a making of feature or some piece on the art department is just disappointing. A movie like this deserves some juicy extras.