Well, ok. I mean, wait. Let me start over again. I’m not entirely sure what I just watched. There was something about the 1980’s. And there was a guy. And something called the Arboria Institute. There was a mutant. There was some blood. Some cool mirrors, a little synthesizer music, and a Sentionaut. That perhaps is the best explanation I can come up with for Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow.
Now perhaps you’ve read into that first paragraph to imply it’s not a good movie. I wouldn’t go that far, necessarily, because I think it accomplished what it set out to do. What that actually was, I don’t know. At all. Not really. But I’m sure it succeeded. Is this becoming any clearer?
The set up is simple enough. There’s a call for people to find themselves and to do so at the Arboria Institute, a kind of new age enlightenment place that helps you find yourself through amid award winning botanicals and advances in technology. So says Dr. Arboria. But then we don’t see Dr. Arboria for quite a while. We see the other Dr. at the institute, Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers, Duets) as he interviews a young woman, Elena (Eva Allen, The Big Year) who appears to be under heavy sedation.
Eventually all sorts of strange things happen. I can’t even begin to explain. Not that it would necessarily ruin anything, I honestly don’t know that I could possibly spoil anything, but that’s the thing…I’m not really sure what the story is here. This could be the kind of film that starts to develop itself upon repeat viewings, and there is a method to the whole thing, so it’s not a senseless film, but it’s not easy to get into. It’s not easy to follow along or to understand the motivations of the characters. Towards the end of the film there becomes a clear motivation and the pace quickens, but how we got to that point is a strange adventure, indeed.
There are some amazing aspects to this film. The 1980’s is firmly realized. The buttons, the lights, the hair styles, the car, the music and so much more all feel very authentic to the decade. The film takes place in 1983, and if you weren’t convinced about the time period, President Reagan appears a few times just to make sure you know. The music is fitting, as I mentioned, but it’s also very well done. It has a certain quality that reminds me of parts of Drive and also Tron 2. I particularly liked the very giant dial Barry uses to turn up the intensity of crazy (or maybe we could call it the Black Rainbow?) inside the institute. But that’s just because I like oversized dials. Those should make a comeback.
And whatever makes the last quarter of the film more enjoyable and easy to watch also falls apart in the very last moments. I won’t detail the very end, but the cat and mouse play ends very abruptly. So abruptly it seems like it must be a joke. But it isn’t . That’s really the ending. I’m not a stranger to abrupt endings. I was one of the people who will go to great lengths to defend the ending of No Country for Old Men. And I’ve read the book, so I know how it’s supposed to end and I still favor the Coen brother’s ending. This almost felt like no one knew how to just stop the damn thing and then the whistle blew.
Oh well. I don’t want to trash this film. I really don’t. I feel completely let down from what I was hoping it would be, but I’m not entirely sure the film is at fault. Maybe I missed something. I just don’t think I could go back and watch it again to give it a second chance. Of course this means I can’t really recommend it to anyone, but I do know there are fans of the film out there. They may be very few and far between, but they do exist. If you enjoy taking adventures with your movie watching, then of course you should watch this. If you enjoy the idea of dropping acid but don’t want to actually do anything illegal, this could be the solution.
The image presentation of Beyond the Black Rainbow is pleasing. There is an intentional aging look to the film to give it that 80’s feel, and there are many moments where contrast, colors, gamma, and all sorts of other controls are distorted and exaggerated, so at times it may be hard to judge the picture quality by any typical standards. But it fits the mood and intention of the filmmakers as well as I think is probably possible.
Again, the audio is meant to appeal to a certain era, and like the video presentation, succeeds in sounding 30 years old. The surrounds are well utilized, hoverer, so the experience is immersive.
Conclusion and Recommendation
I’ve already given my recommendation, but I am far from conclusive about anything. This film is a trip. It has style and there is obviously a creative talent behind the mess. But it’s really more of an experience than a story. It’s supposed to be a sci-fi horror, or maybe a sci-fi thriller. I find it lacking in both the science fiction and the thriller or horror elements. I’ve heard this film compared to the styles of Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg and other auteurs, but with my current understanding and appreciation for this film I find that to be an insult. The film is certainly trying to do something. It’s trying desperately to be different and it may be trying to reach for the always unreachable (at least intentionally) cult status. I’m glad I watched the film, I don’t feel cheated or robbed from having watched it. Having bought it is another thing altogether. So there’s your word of caution. If you are interested in watching, I suggest renting. The blu-ray presentation is strong, but I think most viewers won’t want to revisit this title at all.
Conclusion: Rent it. If you feel adventurous.