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Beyond the Black Rainbow

Tribeca 2011 Review

Magnolia Pictures; 110 minutes

Director: Panos Cosmatos

Written by on April 26, 2011 

Equal parts sci-fi as it is experimental film, Beyond the Black Rainbow is an odd trip down movie memory lane, taking you back to the drug fueled cinema of the 1970s that might leave you a bit hazy. The debut film from Panos Cosmatos takes place in an futuristic alternate reality 1983, crafting a unique atmosphere of paranoia, psychological experiments and meta-psychical powers. Clearly influenced by a myriad of films from the golden era of bizarre sci-fi, part of the enjoyment in experiencing BtBR is reveling in its influences. From 2001, Solaris, Scanners, THX-1138, Tron and a slew more of old school films, Cosmatos is obviously a fan of vintage dystopia and successfully mutates somewhat stale sci-fi tropes into a surreal mind bending adventure.

Trying to decipher the story is only half of the challenge with BtBR, as Cosmatos is careful not to overly rely on the simplicity of his plot. Instead the film oozes mood and style, pulsing haunting soundscapes born of a computer’s nightmare and camera work often shot in close-ups and obscured blurs add to the tension. Opening with a VHS recording in pure vintage form, a new age utopia doctrine hypnotically unfolds that instantly sets off the bizarre tone. We are then introduced to the mysterious Elena (Eva Allan), whose been drugged and kept captive in some kind of secluded space hippie laboratory known as Aboria. Looking like a hybrid between a young villainous Christopher Lee with the intensity of Christian Bale, Barry (played brilliantly by Michael Rogers) is the one devilishly pushing the buttons on this demented experiment. A game of cat and mouse continues between the two, as Barry tries to understand Elena’s telekinetic powers.

Elements of the story reminded me of an obscure anime, Elfen Lied, which also utilizes a jailbreak formula of experimenting on a young beautiful girl, prisoner to her captives, who want to control her terrifying psychotic power. There are also elements of some great experimental film techniques, in particular some of the earlier work of Luis Buñuel from his silent film era. High contrast black and white, soft focus, long dissolves and literally a rainbow of over-saturated Technicolor glory paint just some of the techniques. In one particular sequence, Barry has a flash back to his childhood in the 1960s where the film literally goes into the metaphysical realm which leads into him transforming into Voldermort. BtBR also has one of my favorite opening title sequence since Enter the Void, hypnotically exploding the retina of a human eye in an infinite loop as the titles dissolve on in the center.

Director Cosmatos, whose background includes experimental films, music videos and album covers, is a brave and bold talent that deserves comparison to some of the films he so cherishes with homage. That said, the film is not for everyone and demands some patience to be appreciated. The plot might not make the most sense, but if you are into unusual and bold cinema, then chances are you’ll find something to enjoy. Destined to be a cult classic and with the potential to yield some amazing posters, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a new take on vintage science fiction that despite it’s retro vibe feels remarkably fresh.

Jordan Raup and Nick Newman also recorded a video reaction to the film, which can be viewed below.

Beyond the Black Rainbow plays at the Tribeca Film Festival this week. Buy tickets here and watch the trailer below.



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