What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.
I missed BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW while it was on its festival circuit. But the film elicited such strong reactions, both positive and negative, that I really wanted to see it for myself. So I jumped at the chance to review it upon it’s Blu-ray release on September 11th.
The film is incredibly stylized and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Light on plot and heavy on atmosphere, lush visuals, and synthesizers; BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW owes much of its inspiration to John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Dario Argento, LOST, and mind altering drugs. And also European art / new wave films.
First time director Panos Cosmatos makes a bold, intentional, and confidently stylistic debut with this film. The son of action director George P. Cosmatos, Panos claims to have partially paid for the film using royalties from TOMBSTONE. So, I guess it is now a confirmed fact that TOMBSTONE is a gift that keeps on giving.
What little plot there is to BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is worth mentioning, but the film isn’t really about a cutting edge story; this is something to see and experience. The film begins with narration from a Dr. Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands) who tells us all about his facilities which, using the latest technologies and herbs and new age vibes, can create happiness and fullness for everyone! The whole thing feels very much like something straight out of LOST’s Dharma Initiative. Then the bulk of the film takes place inside of Dr. Arboria’s mysterious facility which feels, again, like an unexplored hatch that is still functioning somewhere on LOST’s island. There, young teen Elena (Eva Allan) is being relentlessly experimented on by a mysterious man named Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers.) Nyle seems to rule the facility and Dr. Arboria is nowhere to be found. Sounds, images, extreme close ups, ‘80s electronic atmosphere and set design then take the forefront.
Where is this facility? Who are these people? Why is Elena a captive? What seems to have gone so wrong from Dr. Arboria’s opening monologue about a breakthrough in human happiness? BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW isn’t really concerned with answering those questions for you, although it will address some of them. Cosmatos is primarily interested in creating an experience in sight and sound that will be unique and hypnotic.
The problem with that style, for me, is that I feel it drags. I basically summed up everything that happens in the first two acts in a couple sentences above. I’ll leave the third act for you to discover, but it isn’t as if the plot suddenly becomes incredibly complex or captivating. There are long periods of images cascading into images with no progression of story, and while that has an avante-garde feel to it, I was frankly tempted to fast forward. Maybe seeing the film immersively, in a theater, would have altered that feeling for me. But at home on my TV screen, the trippy visuals weren’t enough to keep me engaged throughout.
There are only a few characters in the story, and although Elena is our protagonist, this movie clearly belongs to the mad scientist Barry Nyle. Michael Rogers does all the heavy lifting as far as performances are concerned and he is suitably creepy and intriguing. His character has the most development and arc of any of the cast. But with so little plot to be found, I’d prefer not to spoil the progression of his character. Let’s just say a bit of evolution seems to be going on in this hatch. The connection between Elena and Nyle becomes more clear as the film progresses and elements of some Cronenbergian horror appear. But as I mentioned, these developments were too little too late for me as I was already disconnected from the overall story by the time the third act rolled around. I had already figured out that this movie was stylistically fascinating but that it wasn’t really made for a plot-loving guy like me.
I think the film is a success. I’m certainly curious to see more from Cosmatos and feel that this debut is assured and intentional. I also think, however, that it was super weird. Art films like this are tough for me. I absolutely adored the score, the costumes and character designs. There is some imagery that is quite haunting. And the cinematography is also highly stylized and interesting. I just needed a little bit more story. I wanted to care about the people and not just dwell in sensory overload throughout the film’s runtime.
So while I recommend checking out BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW to see an intriguing debut from an interesting new filmmaker; I’ll gladly watch TOMBSTONE a couple more times before popping in BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW again.
As I mentioned, the film looks pretty amazing. There are lots of intentionally aged shots where BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW looks like it was actually shot in 1983 (the date for the setting of the film.) And although this clearly wasn’t a large budgeted film, there are tons of vivid moments of mysterious imagery that really pops on Blu-ray. There aren’t a ton of extras here, which is a bummer because I’d love to have ole Panos walk us through his creation via a commentary.
And I’m Out.
Terry Malloy AKA Ed Travis