Beyond The Black Rainbow review


What the hell did I just watch? That may be the ques­tion you’ll ask your­self as an eighties style soundtrack throbs over the end cred­its for Bey­ond The Black Rain­bow. It’s sci­ence fic­tion, but — in these days of guns, ali­ens, space­ships and Bla­derun­ner wan­nabes — not as we know it.

Set at some point in the early nineteen-eighties (made clear by the style of clothes and occa­sional shots of then US pres­id­ent, Ron­ald Reagan, on TV screens, plus the num­bers “1983” in huge typeface at the begin­ning of the movie), a doc­tor runs a spir­itual, new age insti­tute. It’s per­haps the least well staffed build­ing ever: there is just him and one nurse. This may be because there only seems to be one patient, a girl with tele­pathic powers.

Is the doc­tor try­ing to treat her, or is he groom­ing her for some­thing alto­gether more dan­ger­ous? The insti­tute, intro­duced with a scratchy video­tape advert, cer­tainly seems to have star­ted with the right inten­tions, how­ever woolly minded they might seem to us in the year 2012. But over time, it seems its ideals have become cor­rup­ted. There’s some­thing sin­is­ter about the exper­i­ments that now take place under its roof. And that’s put­ting it mildly.

The mother lode

The appear­ance of Ron­ald Reagan, other than anchor­ing Bey­ond The Black Rain­bow in a spe­cific time, sug­gests the pos­sib­il­ity that the insti­tute has ties to gov­ern­ment. The movie per­haps draws inspir­a­tion from the vari­ous thought con­trol exper­i­ments sup­posedly per­formed by the CIA from the 1950s through to the 1970s, to develop altern­ate weapons against the Soviets.

It’s use of isol­a­tion and hal­lu­cino­genic imagery cer­tainly ticks all the right boxes. The doc­tor in charge has one scene where he ingests a mind expand­ing sub­stance, lead­ing to one of Bey­ond The Black Rain­bow’s high­lights. “The mother lode” as the film likes to call it. Unfor­tu­nately, rather than enlight­en­ing the good doc­tor, it seems to break him. If the first hour proves to be some­thing of a grind, it’s here that the film moves from a slow walk to a slow jog. It’s pace is always lan­guid, but at least by the halfway mark, more of the insti­tute and the doctor’s inten­tions are revealed.

It’s mind bend­ing stuff. Then again, it could all just be pre­ten­tious drivel. The film over­steps the bound­ar­ies more than a few times, to the point of over indul­gence. Is there a genu­ine story being told, or is it just a dir­ector plun­der­ing his cine­matic wank bag? Influ­ences are many: Kubrick, Cronen­berg, Lynch, Argento, and a bit of Lucas’ THX 1138. The music sounds like some­thing from a John Car­penter movie, or one of the weirder albums by Tan­ger­ine Dream.

Too much cheese before bedtime

The dir­ector, Panos Cos­ma­tos, is quoted as say­ing that he just wanted “to cre­ate a film that is sort of ima­gin­ing an old film that doesn’t exist”. The type of film he wasn’t allowed to rent when brows­ing at his favour­ite video store as a young­ster (I’m guess­ing he’s seen a lot of these movies now though).

If it is pre­ten­tious drivel, then it’s hugely enjoy­able, totally mes­mer­ising pre­ten­tious drivel, cre­ated by a dir­ector who has seen fit to ignore the old wives’ tale of eat­ing too much cheese before bed­time. I think I can say with 99% accur­acy, that Panos Cos­ma­tos ate a full Edam, a couple of plat­ters of French cheeses, and a big bag of Baby­bels before hit­ting the sack and wak­ing up to dir­ect Bey­ond The Black Rain­bow.

Even if the end­ing is slightly weak, with Cos­ma­tos run­ning out of steam and fall­ing back on a few famil­iar hor­ror cliches, it still does what any good debut fea­ture film should do. Get you excited to see what the dir­ector does next. Well, it got me excited. I don’t doubt that some people will flat out hate this movie and want to punch their TV screen in frus­tra­tion. Me? There’s a big slice of Swiss cheese in the fridge and it’s got my name on it.