From the ’60s-style promotional video for the Arboria Institute that opens the film to the final jarring minutes of the film, Beyond the Black Rainbow brings you under its control and lulls you into a visual and audio trance. During your immersive state of hypnosis, it might be easy to overlook the heady themes of writer-director Panos Cosmatos’ debut feature. Against a throbbing, psychadelic backdrop, Cosmatos tells a story of repression and contrition set in an alternate 1983 that will not be easily shaken from your memory. It’s a beautiful nightmare I didn’t want to end.
In a reticent organization called the Arboria Initiative, Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) examines and treats a female patient named Alena (Eva Allen), who’s actually more of a prisoner. The institute’s stated goal is to explore the possibilities of the human psyche and find inner peace through the use of mind-altering chemicals. Part of Nyle’s research appears to be to track the evolution of Alena’s psychological evolution and telekinesis. That’s my theory at least. As the movie unfurls through flashback and Nyle’s interaction with his mother and Dr. Arboria, we see how truly disturbing their work is. It’s obviously taking a hefty toll on Nyles as well.
There’s no explanation or clear exposition, which is fine by me. Cosmatos’ film is absolutely stunning and meticulous in its presentation. It’s not a movie you can throw on while throwing back beers with your boys. It demands your attention and if you commit to this film, you’ll be floored by how intensely hypnotizing it truly is. The film itself is a mind-altering narcotic – every aspect from the ambiguous performances to the ambient score hold you under a trippy sci-fi spell. Cosmatos’ ambition pays off in spades.
Newcomer Eva Allen delivers a great performance as Alena, but Michael Rogers (Hellraiser: Hellseeker) steals the show as the repressed Barry Nyle. When we first meet him, he appears in control of Alena and himself. Then Cosmastos and Rogers flip the script and present us with a character deeply complex and tortured in a way through his work with Arboria. In the end, Nyle’s sheds his skin (in a manner of speaking) and transforms into a terrifying boogeyman that gave me the wicked bad willies.
There are some really funny moments in the film – Nyle’s disinterest in his mother’s leftovers was a great bit – and some terrifying ones too. I never thought someone licking glass would be anything but silly, but it made my skin crawl in BBR. Overall the movie never breaks you from its pulsing rhythm of sight and sound. The sound design melds into Jeremy Schmidt’s fantastic score – enhancing the hypnotizing effect of the meticulous visuals. And oh god, the visuals. Drenched in neons and the blackest blacks, the set and costume designs are incredible in their simplicity.
A lot of morons are writing Beyond the Black Rainbow off as an effortless homage to ’80s sci-fi and Kubrick. The influences are obviously there, but Cosmatos’ film is a beast all its own that’s going to have people discussing their conflicting interpretations for years to come. A simple plot enhanced with serious themes, BBR is an immersive feast and a brilliant addition to the lo-fi sci-fi horror genre. Stare into the glowing triangle and enjoy the trip!- Patrick Cooper