Director Panos Cosmatos has said that his film Beyond the Black Rainbow is based on what he imagined late 70s or early 80s horror films were like, since his parents wouldn’t let him watch them. That’s certainly a good explanation for much of the film, which seems like it’s been taken from another time. At times maddeningly obtuse, at others violent and shocking, Beyond the Black Rainbow makes a statement as a vision of an artist; though the success of that statement is open to question.
What there is of a plot is somewhat difficult to summarize, as it jumps from character to character without a single major thread. The closest thing to a traditional plotline involves Elena (Eva Allen), who is being held in captivity at a commune by the mysterious Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). Elena appears to possess psychic powers, and the Arboria Institute, where she’s being held, believes her to be the next stage in evolution. Barry controls her mind using a mysterious diamond-shaped machine. As Elena becomes more powerful, and begins lashing out, Barry speaks with the institute’s founder, Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands), now an old man who doesn’t seem to totally understand what’s going on around him. As that plot moves toward its conclusion, however, Barry seemingly descends into new levels of violence, just as Elena looks for ways to escape her confinement.
The visuals and sounds of the film certainly are of the period. Sinoia Caves creates a remarkably haunting synth-based score. The visuals in much of the film are reminiscent of a number of science-fiction films, including the final sequence of 2001. Rogers brings real menace to the role of Barry. As a veteran of science-fiction and horror roles, he knows what’s expected of him in this type of role, and he brings exactly what’s needed. Allen’s character doesn’t speak, but she’s more than capable of bringing Elena’s fear, anguish and anger, especially as she grows determined to escape.
The lack of a traditional plot, however, keeps the movie from being what it could be. There are a number of elements that, had they been followed through as a full length film, would have been an interesting artistic tribute to the types of horror films that inspired Cosmatos’ imagination all those years ago. It could have been a lot more fun, potentially. Instead, the audience gets a lot of artfully shot scenes that don’t actually seem to go anywhere. There’s an awful lot of interesting looking shots, but whether they actually serve the plot is something else. Many name directors cut their teeth in science-fiction or horror in this period, like James Cameron, or made artistic statements within the genre, such as George Romero. But they did so by following the rules of the genre. Romero was able to express important political and social points through his work, but he made his work accessible to the audience as a whole. By working so hard to prove what an imaginative artist he is, Cosmatos fails to remember this lesson, and any terror that might have come through the plotline gets somewhat lost in all of the artistic flourishes. If Cosmatos ultimately wishes to move beyond the art house, he might need to reconsider this.
But for those seeking something that’s a stark difference from any horror film you’re likely to see in years, Beyond the Black Rainbow offers this in spades. The score and performances will be appreciated by fans of genre, as can Cosmatos’ visual flair. Whether you quite understand what happened afterward is perhaps a more difficult question.