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Deep within the walls of the mysterious Arboria Institute, a beautiful young girl named Elena (Eva Allan) is held captive in a glass cage by a deranged scientist named Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). Here, she’s only able to wait silently while Dr. Nyle controls her mind with sinister, abstract technology. Meanwhile, the insane doctor’s personal life and the history of the Institute are unraveled.

Beyond the Black Rainbow
A few times every year, a film comes down the pike that is so bizarre and niche it garners my complete attention, whether it deserves it or not. Often, these films try too hard or are lacking the genuine novelty required to maintain my attention and I find myself disappointed. But the day I stop allowing myself to get excited by the prospect of something unique is the day I give in to mundanity like Grown Ups and Paul Blart: Mall Cop. The latest of these cinematic oddities made odd seemingly for the sake of oddness, Beyond the Black Rainbow, comes out of the Great White North of Canada – an area not known for their weirdness of late, outside of David Cronenberg, of course. First time feature writer/director Panos Cosmatos has made an arthouse thriller that could fit perfectly in the neo-grindhouse tradition. The film’s extreme visuals remind me more of the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Ken Russell, but the dreamscape storytelling styles are closer to the aforementioned Cronenberg, specifically his early shorts ( Stereo and Crimes of the Future) and his technical nightmare, Videodrome. Cosmatos also clearly drew inspiration from George Lucas’ THX 1138, along with other oddball, cyberpunk flicks like Richard Stanley’s Hardware and the king of all style-over-substance sci-fi features, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Though obviously more experimental than strictly ‘entertaining,’ Beyond the Black Rainbow is yet another entry on a long-running list of recent genre films that pay fetishistic homage to genre films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Cosmatos’ film takes place almost entirely in the shadow of other motion pictures – even taking steps to set his film in the year 1983 (which he tells us via an Alien-esque title card) where he can afford to decorate everything in the most hideous, Kubrick-chic, futurist furnishings. The film doesn’t exactly recreate the basic plot of any specific genre offering, but the Cronenbergian elements definitely extend to the narrative subject matter, which is born of the mock-New Age psychology/philosophy of films, like The Brood and Videodrome. The film even opens with a faux commercial for the Arboria Institute (which otherwise has little baring on the plot), much like the opening ad for the high-rise in Shivers. Following about an hour of threadbare, vaguely psychological thriller trappings, the third act then turns into a sort of diseased blend of Brian DePalma, Dario Argento, and Ridley Scott, completed with more shades of Kubrick that finally earns the film’s R-rating. Perhaps most endearing is the way the film recreates the hallucinatory qualities of genre B-movies that were only particularly hallucinatory, because they lacked the budget to compete with studio releases; films like Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World, Aaron Lipstadt Android, and Ralph Nelson’s Embryo.

Beyond the Black Rainbow
Above homage, however, Cosmatos seems to have made Beyond the Black Rainbow as an elongated excuse to play with film imagery. At the risk of selling the film short, I imagine it will become a bit of a cult hit with potheads and folks a penchant for dropping acid at the movies. I don’t really know anything about the process of doing psychedelic drugs, but I could guess that they take about 45-50 minutes to work, because that’s when shit gets really wacky here. Otherwise, there should probably be a counter at the bottom of the screen that announces the appropriate time for the audience to eat their peyote. Cosmatos’ film has the added benefit of not being particularly heavy with social, political, or religious metaphors (at least none I was able to discern), which keeps it from feeling particularly pretentious, unlike, say, E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten or Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain (both great movies that turn off many viewers with their obvious subtexts). There’s an appropriate air of menace in the experimentation, often due to the weird visuals, but Michael Rogers’ stiff, controlled performance and the pointedly mundane dialogue play their part as well. Often Cosmatos’ use of in-camera trickery turns silly, but his steadfast devotion to being trippy over sensible keeps the film somewhat anchored. I often found myself falling out of the intended hypnotic state and giggling at the sterile seriousness of pseudo-analysis and lack of actual content, but it was never too long before I drifted back into the intended dream state. In the end, I was most pleasantly surprised by how quickly the film moves, despite the general lack of stuff happening. There are some major dips in pace, yes, but these are usually spiked by the few bits of actual plotting that helps to keep things moving into increasingly arbitrary arenas.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Video


Beyond the Black Rainbow was shot on 35mm and is presented here on Blu-ray in full 1080p, 2.35:1 widescreen. Cosmatos and cinematographer Norm Li fully embrace the analogue format’s grain and other idiosyncrasies as part of their throwback style. In fact, the film is often so grainy that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t actually shot in 16mm. Cosmatos and Li even embrace the shutter effects of analogue equipment (which might actually induce seizures in epileptic viewers) and allow their colours to bleed chemically into each other. Consistently dirty source artefacts aside (which occasionally include scan lines and scratches in an effort to make the film appear older than it is), this Blu-ray transfer does a great job doling out the occasionally razor-sharp details. Usually this pertains to extreme facial and prop close-ups, as backgrounds are artfully obscured by shallow focus or harsh darkness. The chemically altered colours do bleed into each other a whole lot and also tend to fade into the edges of the screen, but the most important edges are plenty tight without any major haloing effects. Again, it should be clear that ‘messy’ is the intended look and the real beauty of this HD transfer is found in the way it clearly captures these inconsistencies and effectively contrasts them against each other. The utter vibrancy of some of the hues is also quite impressive, especially the flat red that often engulfs the entire screen. Black levels tend to get a bit of a shaft, thanks to all the grain and bleeding elements, but are plenty deep when specifically ‘important’ to the mise-en-scène. There’s a great shot around the 30-minute mark that starts a character in almost total blackness, then moves her through natural and unnatural coloured lights. Here, the differentiations can be properly experienced.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Audio


Beyond the Black Rainbow’s audio design matches the trippy extremes of the visuals and this uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does a fine job reveling in the weirdness. For much of the film there’s no discerning sound effects from Jeremy Schmidt’s throwback keyboard score (which the advertising materials proudly mark as analogue, not[/]I digital). The throb of synth hits the LFE hard and often envelopes the stereo and surround channels in the form of swirling directional work and subtler reverb design. The melodic pieces of score are few and far between, but definitely aim to please the Goblin and John Carpenter fans in the house. Vocal effects range from natural to heavily effect-altered. When presented naturally, the performances are well-centered and clean, which makes a nice contrast to the wacky directionally enhanced bits. The audio design makes good use of dynamic ranges as well and might shock some viewers with exactly how loud it can get. The jittery and throbbing bits are truly transformative, making the viewer feel the same disorientation the on-screen characters are often experiencing.

Extras


The extras are extremely brief including a deleted special effect (‘ballistic head dissolve,’ 3:21, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Magnolia/Magnet releases. I know I could’ve done with [I]some
information on the production, but I suppose there’s also something to be said for a continuing air of mystery.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Overall


I’m afraid the singular experience of Beyond the Black Rainbow may be limited to the time spent physically watching the film, as I’m already forgetting much of what happened as I wrap up this review, but it’s still something of a singular experience and one I mostly enjoyed. I believe other fans of weirdo cinema will enjoy the experience too, especially if they’re up for recognizing all of writer/director Panos Cosmatos’ many inspirations. This Blu-ray release accurately portrays the film’s rough, grainy look and the DTS-HD MA soundtrack makes great use of its analogue sound. The lack of extras is a bummer, but not entirely an unexpected one.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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