Beyond The Black Rainbow is a horror/science fiction fever dream. More stream of conscious than narrative, director Panos Cosmatos creates a film inspired by midnight movies and those horrifying VHS boxes that decorated mom-and-pop video stores in the 1980s.
The film focuses on a young woman, Elena (Eva Allen), who is an unwilling patient in the outwardly New Age, yet actually oppressive Arboria Institute. Through the institute’s use of a strange crystal pyramid and the observation by the creeptastic Dr. Barry Nyle, (Michael Rogers), Elena is subjected to a series of painful mental (possibly psychic) tests. Director Panos Cosmatos tells a tale of loss and escape set in a Stanley Kubrick/Ridley Scott inspired 1983.
The color pallet inside the institute is opaque. Covered in red, orange, white or black, the walls inside Arboria allow for nothing but themselves. The captive Elena is constantly under surveillance and never says a word. The very thought of escape triggers and invisible force, emanating from a crystal pyramid beneath the Arboria Institute that paralyzes her. Dr. Nyle taunts her in their sessions, trying to get her to speak. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t even know who her parents are. Dr. Nyle taunts her with this during their sessions.
Everything about the institute is closed off from the outside world. Indeed, the only glimpse we see outside the institute (for most of the film) is Dr. Nyle’s home life and his commute. He is the only character to ever leave the institute, and he returns nightly to a woman who is either his mother or wife – the relationship is never expressly stated. Even at home though, Nyle only thinks of Elena and the Arboria Institute.
The film feels as if it’s about loss and unintended consequences. Dr. Arboria, who is rather old in the film’s present, is an aging drug addict, seemingly blind to the complete and utter failure that is his institution. He wanted to help people become better, happier versions of themselves. Instead, his heir, Dr. Nyle, masks his own dark desires – desires originally set loose in a disastrous 1966 acid trip that now seem to be focused on Elena. She is no better or happier. Elena is a prisoner.
Composer Jeremy Schmidt writes a score full of 70s and 80s inspired synth that is reminiscent of John Carpenter, Vangelis and even Barry de Vorzon’s main theme from The Warriors. The film is like a composition of music and the score compliments every purposely constructed frame. It’s like a synthy dirge. The close-ups (and there are many) are tight. The wide shots show a beauty in the banal.
For all the film’s strengths, it moves at a very slow, but very deliberate pace. As the film reaches its climax, the pace suddenly changes. It’s like a crescendo that appears suddenly, then disappears before the listener catches on. It’s deliberate, but it feels a little off, especially considering how well constructed the rest of the film is.
Beyond The Black Rainbow feels like a midnight movie produced in the late 70s or early 80s – a dystopic vision of New Age philosophy and the hippie movement gone horribly wrong. He pulled it off.