Rewind Review: 2011’s ‘Beyond the Black Rainbow’

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Beyond the Black Rainbow is a Canadian Horror/Sci-Fi film that’s unlike anything you have ever seen.

Check out my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis:  Held captive in a specialized medical facility, a young woman with unique abilities seeks a chance to escape her obsessed captor. Set in the strange and oppressive emotional landscape of the year 1983, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a Reagan-era fever dream inspired by hazy childhood memories of midnight movies and Saturday morning cartoons. From the producer of Machotaildrop, Rainbow is the outlandish feature film debut of writer and director Panos Cosmatos. Featuring a hypnotic analog synthesizer score by Jeremy Schmidt of Sinoia Caves and Black Mountain, Rainbow is a film experience for the senses.

It’s easy to experience Beyond the Black Rainbow: Just pop the disc in your DVD player and hit the play button. But if you want to actually appreciate this incredibly slow, incredibly bizarre film, it helps to understand the writer/director: Panos Cosmatos.

Panos Cosmatos is the son of filmmaker George P. Cosmatos (whose credits include Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra) and surrealist Swedish sculptor Birgitta Ljungberg-Cosmatos.  Panos made Beyond the Black Rainbow as a way of processing his father’s death and stated that his filmmaking style is a hybrid of the artistic sensibilities of both his parents: George’s “popcorn movies” and Brigitta’s haunting, experimental art.

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There are, in my opinion, several factors that make Beyond the Black Rainbow a difficult film to endure, but the biggest obstacle is the pacing.  To say that the film is slow is an understatement—its momentum is practically glacial. And at 110 minutes, there are times when this tactic creates legitimate tedium.  According to Panos, Beyond the Black Rainbow belongs to what he dubbed the “trance film” subgenre.  While this approach adds layers of subtext, it sometimes makes for a frustrating viewing experience.  Even the dialogue is delivered in labored… stilted…  fragments… (and speaking of dialogue, there can’t be more than 30 pages of scripting for the entire film).

Another factor that makes Beyond the Black Rainbow both interesting an difficult is the visuals.  This film doesn’t just take place in 1983, it feel like an actual relic from that era.  The film is grainy and textured–and often out of focus.  Panos makes extensive use of color filters (mostly reds, oranges, and blues) that, when combined with the minimalist sets and stark geometric designs, gives the entire film a very “modernist” feel.  While this aspect may impress fans of art-house and experimental cinema, it can certainly be off-putting to more mainstream movie-goers.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is a lonely film with barely half a dozen speaking roles.  The medical facility (The Arboria Institute) where the bulk of the movie takes place is huge, but feels hollow—practically abandoned.  While this goes a long way in illustrating themes of isolation, it also conveys that feeling to the audience—another intentional tactic that may add to the film’s artistic integrity, but detracts from the enjoyment of the experience.

Yet with all of these problematic issues, the biggest triumph of Beyond the Black Rainbow is the way it sticks with you long after the final credits.  Recollecting the story without the tedium is like remembering a dream (or a nightmare). Colors and images come to mind with an impactful effectiveness.

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Some critics have stated that Beyond the Black Rainbow is like a bad acid trip, but I don’t quite agree.  A bad acid trip would at least be exciting, startling, and dangerous.  In my opinion, enduring Beyond the Black Rainbow (committing to seeing it through to the very end) is like being stuck in a dream you can’t wake up from—but wish you could.

The fact that Rainbow is so long and difficult can overshadow the subtext—which is a shame because this film has plenty. In addition to exploring themes of isolation and control, Rainbow is a scathing indictment of new-age pseudo-religion and the pursuit of serenity through the use of psychedelic drugs. In some ways, it seems designed to shame the “Flower Power” generation’s embracing of self-proclaimed gurus like Leary and Kesey.  According to Panos, this sort of inner-space exploration is a one-way ticket to insanity and psychosis.

Whether or not this film even qualifies as a Horror movie is debatable, but we’ve got telekinesis, exploding heads, a robot (with retractable syringes in his fingers), zombies, stabbings, and a scientist transformed by a hellish drug-trip.  Still, the super sluggish pacing prevents any sustained sensation of suspense or terror.

The titular Black Rainbow is a paradox—like the film itself.  Panos has created a movie that’s at once captivating and boring, intriguing and dull, difficult to connect with but almost impossible to forget.  In many ways, it’s a film that shouldn’t even exist.  But it does exist, and even if the presentation feels, at time, frivolous, it’s hard to deny that Panos is tackling some very complicated and important issues.

Brave, patient aficionados who thrive on unique cinematic experiences will enjoy Beyond the Black Rainbow. Everyone else: Consider yourselves warned.

2.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE 

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Directed by Panos Cosmatos
Produced by Oliver Linsley
Christya Nordstokke
Screenplay by Panos Cosmatos
Starring Michael Rogers,
Eva Allan,
Scott Hylands,
Marilyn Norry,
Rondel Reynoldson
Music by Sinoia Caves
Cinematography Norm Li
Editing by Nicholas T. Shepard
Studio Chromewood Productions
Distributed by Magnet Releasing
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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

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