One of the films at Fantastic Fest 2011 that piqued my interest but I didn’t actually get to see was Beyond The Black Rainbow. Well I finally saw it yesterday at The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and I feel like I need to talk about it with someone, even if that someone is just the Cyberman image that is my current desktop picture (and indeed this very Cyberman appears to be reaching out to take something from me and I am more than happy to give it to him at the moment). I kind of feel like watching this film might have psychically infected me with an information virus that will manifest as some kind of psychosis in my twilight years if I don’t purge it from my memory banks via talk therapy (or write-therapy, as it were).
Don’t get the impression, though, that I didn’t like the film. Nor did I like it per se. This isn’t the kind of film you see to enjoy. It’s the kind of film you go to experience (much in the way you experience a Gaspar Noe or Lars Von Trier film). It’s a curiosity, a peering into someone else’s mind, which for me is fascinating and interesting, but not always pleasurable. The particular mind behind Beyond the Black Rainbow has likely done a lot of psychedelics (I have no idea if Panos Cosmatos has actually done any or if he is just naturally one of those people with a tripped out mind, but the film most certainly eludes to a psychedelic journey and is, itself, structured like one… not that I would know what that’s like *ahem*).
Anyway… there are two films I kept coming back to while watching this: George Lucas’ THX1138 and David Cronenberg’s Scanners. Stylistically and even a bit thematically, THX1138 is most definitely an influence (which is hilarious that I thought this since Cosmatos more or less admits this in an interview with The Austin Chronicle’s Marc Savlov that I read just a few minutes ago… go me for being perceptive!). The parallels with Scanners are not as pervasive but they are certainly there. The sinister psychic phenomena game between the nefarious and creepy psychiatrist, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), and the beautiful and tortured young girl, Elena (Eva Allen), along with the mysterious existence of the insanely tall, skinny spacesuit-clad Sentionaut and the even more mysterious white light pyramid machine, practically scream early ’80s Cronenberg. Just run that scream through an audio compressor and modify it into a square wave, take out all frequencies over 2k and output it to the worst set of speakers you can find and that will pretty much cover it.
Visually this movie is brilliant. To me it feels as though the film was run through a color compressor that both over-saturated the color and removed the contrast. There is hardly any true black anywhere in the film. The shadows all seem to fade into a grainy navy blue. Every scene inside the Arboria Institute, where Dr. Nyle seems to have incarcerated Elena for some never explained experiment, is boiling over with blues, oranges and reds, which very effectively enhance the overabundance of emotional turmoil both main characters are going through. And every second is either soft focus, slow focus pulls, even slower zooms or pull outs, disconcerting framing, and even more disconcerting pacing. And that pacing is steady throughout, from the length of time held on Dr. Nyle’s ultra creepy facial expressions, to the pace Elena walks once she is free of her cell. The film never seems to speed up or slow down, not once.
I also appreciate the level of practical effects in this film. There may have been some computer animation or manipulation but other than some compositing scenes I didn’t see it. There is a beautiful acid-trip/dream sequence that is all cloud tanks, melting wax and paint. The film was set in 1983 and based on the way it was produced it could have been shot in 1983 as well, and I love that.
One last thing that deserves to be mentioned. The music. It’s more or less perfect for this movie. It’s less disconcerting than the visual element. It’s like it knows how fucked up the movie really is and aims to calm you and comfort you just enough so that you continue watching. Like the film itself paying homage to the early ’80s aesthetic, the music pays homage to the analog synthesizer. Composer Jerry Schmidt (of Sinoia Caves and Black Mountain) is apparently well known for his analog synth work and his score for Black Rainbow is captivating.
Overall I’m going to give this 3.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls. Let me put it this way, if films like Melancholia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Scanners, Enter the Void, and THX1138 are the kinds of movies you find interesting, then you should see this film. Otherwise you should probably avoid it. Here’s a trailer that only hints at what you’re in for: