Beyond the Black Rainbow

2010 / 110m - Canada
Beyond the Black Rainbow poster

Say hi to the 60s and 70s sci-fi revival. Director Panos Cosmatos infused Beyond The Black Rainbow, his first-born, with nods to the sci-fi classics of eras past, but also made sure his film isn't just a rehash of former glory. The result is a challenging trip that wears its influences on its sleeve while equally coming off as modern and original. It's a film you simply cannot ignore if you like your films a little different, but beware, as you may not appreciate the film's total lack of coherent storyline.

screen capture of Beyond The Black Rainbow

When reading reviews of Beyond The Black Rainbow, you are bound to run into some 2001 references. Even though I'm not a big 2001 fan myself I do see the connection, especially when singling out the finale of Kubrick's film (the scenes within the mansion). While watching Beyond The Black Rainbow I was more reminded of Cronenberg's first film Stereo though. Cosmatos film emits a very similar vibe (the extremely clinical research center with its off-center researchers) though the styling of both films couldn't be more different from one another.

Beyond The Black Rainbow has a very strong focus on atmosphere. In the process it inevitably loses a lot when it comes to coherence and storyline. If you want to have a clear understanding of what is going on in this film, multiple viewing will be necessary and even then some plot points will surely remain a blur. It's a harsh trade-off, but I believe that Cosmatos was fully conscious of this when he made his decision (and if you ask me, it's a trade-off more directors should have the guts to make).

The basic premise of the film is simple enough. Elena is a mysterious young girl locked up in a research facility. Elena possesses some weird powers, though it never becomes clear what the exact reason behind her imprisonment is. Her doctor is a pretty creepy man who observes her every day. Elena isn't very talkative or responsive, until one day when she finds a way to escape the research facility.

screen capture of Beyond The Black Rainbow

Beyond The Black Rainbow is first and foremost a visual experience. Based on the trailers I wasn't too excited about the film's look, but during the course of the film the visual style really comes to fruition. The color scheme has a very distinct 70s vibe, but the editing and camera work are definitely more modern. Every single frame went through heavy post-processing, the resulting imagery is absolutely stunning. Once the film ventures outside the walls of the facility Cosmatos has a lot more trouble maintaining the visual qualities, but luckily that's only a small portion of the film.

The soundtrack is a bit trickier to judge. Cosmatos clearly paid a lot of attention to the sound design and it integrates flawlessly with the film, but when compared with the visual audacity of Beyond The Black Rainbow it's a bit lame and definitely on the safe side. Not just the choice to go for an ambient/soundscape-filled soundtrack, but also the execution which often borders on Boards of Canada-like analogue mellowness. It tends to blend in well with the visual look, but it lacks the modern touch. I feel a sharper, more experimental and cut up soundtrack would've worked much better here, then again I should probably be happy that at least a measurable amount of time and dedication went to integrating the music with the visuals.

The acting is pretty basic, the few actors present don't have all that much to work with as their characters are pretty basic stereotypes with little in the way of interaction. On the other hand they do a pretty good job, never falling into the trap of overacting. Eva Allen makes a pretty enigmatic Elena, but it's Michael Rogers that leaves the biggest impression as the creepy and slightly insane Doctor Nyle. No prize-winning performances, but above par for a production of this type.

screen capture of Beyond The Black Rainbow

The first 90 minutes of this film are pretty much perfect, save the lack of a more ballsy soundtrack. Sadly Cosmatos doesn't really know how to end his film, completely turning around the vibe of the finale and gracelessly failing to go out on a high note. I'm not really sure what happened there, I understand that without the ending the film could've been accused of taking itself too seriously, still Cosmatos should never have allowed the film to leave the premise of the facility.

If the film had stopped 20 minutes earlier I would've given it a full score, now I feel Beyond The Black Rainbow fails to fulfill its true potential. It's not that the final 20 minutes are extremely bad or inappropriate, it's just that they can't meet the film's own superb quality standards set during the first 90 minutes. It's a shame because apart from a slightly disappointing soundtrack the films is a true delight. Wildly original, visually overpowering and genuinely mysterious, it's bound to become one of the best releases of 2012 and a film to treasure for years to come.