Another movie that over-relies on atmosphere at the expense of a strong and original narrative. But then again, the otherworldly aura created by writer-director Panos Cosmatos and his collaborators is so extraordinary I won’t complain too much!
2010’s Canadian made BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is set in 1983, which is appropriate, seeing as how most of Panos Cosmatos’s influences derive from the seventies and early eighties, the early films of David Cronenberg in particular. Cosmatos’s father, incidentally, was the late George P. Cosmatos, who helmed OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II and TOMBSTONE.
As for BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW’S distribution, it seems that as of May 2012, two years after the film’s inception, it might actually be about to be released. Thus far that release has been sporadic (such as a one night-only midnight screening at LA’s Silent Movie Theater), but the film is slowly but surely approaching the cult success I’m certain is on the horizon.
The severely creepy Doctor Nyle runs a technologically fuelled new age retreat called Arboria, whose tagline is “Serenity Through Technology.” Among the disturbed residents is Elena, a telepathically endowed young woman who finds herself growing disenchanted with the anemic freakiness of Arboria. She rebels by telepathically killing her nurse, and as punishment is drugged by Nyle.
While Elena is sedated Nyle chats with Dr. Arboria, who began Arboria and is now a doddering gold man. Flashbacks show how back in 1966 Nyle underwent a nightmarish mental ritual overseen by Dr. Arboria that was intended to bring about a “new age of enlightenment of the human soul.” The experience turned Nyle into a near-mutant who now has to wear specially made contact lenses and a hairpiece. Furthermore, the ritual culminated in the birth of an offspring, who of course is none other than Elena.
Back in the here-and-now Elena awakens from her drugged stupor and becomes determined to escape Arboria. This she manages to do by ascending an elevator shaft. After coming into contact with psychotic mutants and clambering through a forresty enclosure Elena winds up in the middle of the Canadian wilderness, where two clueless hunters are afoot. Unluckily for them, Nyle is hot on Elena’s trail, and in a killing mood!
This film’s grab-bag of a narrative is nothing to shout about, playing like THX-1138 crossed with THE FURY, THE BROOD and SCANNERS. As if that weren’t enough, the proceedings are peppered with nerdy film references, such as a “Benway” pill bottle label (as in Dr. Benway from NAKED LUNCH) and a head-crushing closely patterned after a similar scene in BLADE RUNNER, not to mention a post-end credits quote from “B. Banzai.”
But the hallucinatory atmosphere is extraordinary in its care and artfulness. I’d even go so far as to wager that this film’s quasi-futuristic psychoscape is as unique and recognizable as anything created by Lynch or Cronenberg.
I should add that the above applies only to the scenes set within the enclosure of Arboria, marked by unnervingly antiseptic production design, ominous sound effects, eerily beautiful multi-hued photography and acting that perfectly matches the film’s brooding style. I should also add that BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW all-but demands to be experienced more than once–and preferably on a big screen.
Where the film goes wrong is in its final scenes, in which the protagonists exit Arboria and the proceedings devolve into an outdoor splatter-fest. Again, though, I’m willing to overlook this and other shortcomings, as when Cosmatos is on his game, which he is for most of the film, his work is as impressive as that of nearly any current filmmaker you can name.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
Chromewood Productions/Elephant Eye Films
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Producers: Oliver Linsley, Christya Nordstokke
Screenplay: Panos Cosmatos
Cinematography: Norm Li
Editing: Nicholas T. Shepard
Cast: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry, Rondel Reynoldson, Ryley Zinger, Gerry South, Chris Gauthier, Geoffrey Condor