Psychedelic Freakout, by Jack Fleischer
Beyond the Black Rainbow is either right up your alley, or it is so far away from your comfort zone that you should probably avoid it. This movie is what I imagine would happen if Richard Kelly and David Lynch watched the last 30 minutes of 2001 and decided to remake it as a full length horror film. Or maybe this is a cross between Madonna’s video for “Bedtime Story” and the 1985 throwback episode of the show “Fringe.” Does any of this make sense? Maybe it’s what would happen if Terry Gilliam made an eighties period horror film based on the photography of Gregory Crewdson. Hm. What I can clearly say is that this film takes some amazing risks and it isn’t for the faint of heart.
I mention all the above artists because this movie really isn’t easy to explain. Beyond the Black Rainbow depends on a willing audience comfortable with a certain style. There is more here in common with a painting or a dream than any mainstream horror film. It requires the same kind of dot connecting necessary for a Lynch or Crewdson. I can’t say this enough: this movie needs to be seen by a spectator with an open mind who’s willing to get involved.
While much of the story’s details seem “lost,” there are certain aspects that remain concrete. The year is 1983. The film has the look and film scratches of an early ’80s horror flick (think Grindhouse). In this world there’s a large complex located somewhere in English speaking North America. There’s a brief snippet of a Reagan speech, but there doesn’t seem any direct mention of the US. Inside this “futuristic” complex a young woman is being held against her will. There’s a man named “Barry Nyle” (Michael Rogers) overseeing her, prodding her, questioning her. Barry also has a brusque cigarette smoking orderly named Margo (Rondel Reynoldson) who doesn’t seem to know much about what goes on there.
From there it goes in all sorts of directions.
The film is introduced by an ad for a new agey “happiness” institute. We then go to something that looks like a mental institution on the first season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” There is one flashback sequence that takes place in 1966 where we meet Barry’s mentor, and it’s here that the finer points of the back-story are hinted at. The “institute” seems to be one and the same as the “institution”? We also know that there are some very odd “mutants” living within the institution too. Then there’s so much more, but since I’m not sure what would be considered a spoiler, maybe I should stop.
Rogers “Barry Nye” is an interesting actor to watch. At the end I don’t know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. His prisoner, played by Eva Allen is also believable and at times compelling. But really, I wouldn’t say that the acting is the selling point on this picture. This movie is about style.
Every image builds into a sequence, and each sequence is amazing in its visual complexity, even if they never provide you with a solid A + B formula. Mainstream cinema is traditionally driven by a clear story arc. There’s a hero, a protagonist, a twist or two, and for the most there’s at some part where you can see far enough down the road to know what’s coming. This is not the case here, and ultimately that’s refreshing. Nothing is handed to the viewer.
Another thing that defines this movie is a constant feeling of tension. It doesn’t ramp up to it, instead, we begin in an amazingly wound up state. Over the course of the film the tension slowly unravels and is replaced by something very real, and very threatening.
First time writer/director Panos Cosmatos, describes the film as a kind of “poisoned nostalgia” based on imagined plots corresponding to horror film VHS covers he saw as a child browsing his local video store. This movie can be watched with this in mind, turning it into a visceral art experience, a series of loosely connected vignettes, almost like a live action Heavy Metal. Speaking of which, the music, by Jeremy Schmidt is a perfect pairing to the imagery in both tone and style.
Even though this movie doesn’t hold to a traditional story arc, I do believe that there is a very twisted very real story at the core of this movie. I suppose it falls into the Patton Oswalt, “Rock Salt = Star Wars prequels” idea. The film is out there, but my imagination fills in more than I could ever be given directly. What is given is rich and delicious enough; I don’t need the story’s origin details forced upon me.
This is one wild, odd, crazy film, but I’d say that writer/director Panos Cosmatos succeeds. I want to watch it again, and see what else is hiding inside.