Beyond the Black Rainbow would have to be one of the boldest debut feature films in quite some time. Written and directed by Panos Cosmatos, it’s a starkly hallucinogenic experience that boasts some incredible sound and images.
The story, sadly, is where the film is found lacking. Elena (Eva Allan) is being held against her will at the Arboria Institute, a futuristic type of commune. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) is her treating doctor, and he approaches their sessions with sadistic glee, even if Elena sometimes has the ability to terrify him. Elena aims to one day escape from her captors, but to do so she’ll need to run a horrifying gauntlet of primary colours and strange quasi-humans.
My quick summation perhaps makes the story sound stronger than it is, for Beyond the Black Rainbow isn’t particularly concerned with crafting a coherent narrative. It’s the type of surreal, dreamlike sci-fi experience that fans of The Keep, THX-1138, Eraserhead and the last 20 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey will love. The cinematography is sometimes frustrating – only providing close-ups and long shots, with a distinct lack of establishing mid-shots – but the sets, colour grading and other post production effects make for a visual feast.
The other standout feature is the soundtrack, provided by Sinoia Caves (which, frustratingly, doesn’t seem available for purchase anywhere). The score strongly channels ‘Phaedra’-era Tangerine Dream, and is a syth-tastic late 70s/early 80s aural tour de force. Whenever the film gets sluggish (and believe me, this happens frequently) Sinoia Caves turns up to give the film a much needed sense of pace and wonder.
I would have been content for Beyond the Black Rainbow to be nothing more than an extended music video. It does, however, have extended dialogue-heavy scenes which don’t just slow the film down, but stop it dead in its tracks. Such moments don’t add much to the film either, since you don’t really understand what anyone’s talking about. I’m not saying a clear cut, three act screenplay was mandatory, but the narrative is such that we don’t know whom we’re supposed to be rooting for. At first it seems we should be following Elena and her desire to escape, but then the film gets distracted by Barry Nyle’s personal demons, and by the end we somehow find ourselves in a slasher movie. For the record, both Allan and Rogers deliver strong performances and Cosmatos’ confident directorial skills are apparent.
It’s a pity that we only have a DVD release of the film in Australia currently, but it suits the deliberate attempts to age the visuals. If I owned a goth club that played early to mid-90s industrial music, this is totally the type of film I would project on the wall in the background. As a film to sit down and watch, however, Beyond the Black Rainbow doesn’t consistently entertain. If you’re the type of person who likes to relax on a rainy Sunday afternoon by watching a THX-1138/Tetsuo: The Iron Man double feature, then maybe this is the film for you. Others will be disappointed that the surreal and sometimes nightmarish imagery isn’t matched by cohesive narrative. One thing’s for sure: Cosmatos is a talent to look out for in the future.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is available on DVD now from Madman.Rating: