Beyond the Black Rainbow
Published: November 7, 2012
Beyond the Black Rainbow
Directed by Panos Cosmatos
At the Charles Theatre Nov. 14 at 9 p.m.
The numbers, red on black, slowly reveal themselves, one at a time: 1. 9. 8. 3. Even a few minutes into Beyond the Black Rainbow, the year is already almost a punchline. The stark, chromatic decor and the pulsing synth score alone telegraph the days when future visions were transmitted via VHS cassette—pointing it out is almost too on the nose. But then this isn’t quite like any 1983 that ever existed on film, much less during Reagan’s first term. This is more a 1983 of the mind—the mind of rookie feature writer/director Panos Cosmatos circa 2010, to be exact—and it is a singular place to spend two hours.
The sleek hallways and stark white walls of the Arboria Institute house Elena (Eva Allan), a subdued young woman who, we gather, has a troubled and psychically powerful mind. There’s no backstory on why she’s being treated/imprisoned under the dubious care of sinister ectomorph Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). Black Rainbow isn’t one of those flicks where you roll your eyes at all the exposition or thrill to the taut plotting; Cosmatos is all about trippy genre mindblow.
Why Nyle allows (encourages? forces?) Elena to psychically attack her nurse (Rondel Reynoldson) until blood gushes from every hole in the poor woman’s head, for example, is less important than the fact Cosmatos captures the sequence with an almost painterly hand. The director not only captures the look of early ’80s sci-fi/horror in the mod appurtenances and glowing Lucite, he channels the stately surrealist dread of Italian masters such as Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, with a pinch of early David Cronenberg visceral ick. (Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt provides an electronic score worthy of venerable Argento collaborators Goblin.)
No aesthetic details are left to low-budget chance here. It’s not difficult to imagine Cosmatos obsessing over the compounded shine of a hall of mirrors, over each of the all-white foods on Elena’s dinner tray having a slightly different visible texture, over just how far her bare feet should sink into a patch of swampy ground. Surely many viewers will find themselves resistant to Cosmatos’ compendium of aggressive design, painstaking shots, outré effects, and languorous pacing, but for ’80s sci-fi/horror heads, avant cinema fans, or just the superbaked, there’s something hypnotic about Black Rainbow’s eerie slo-mo throb. The spell is so durable that it may even help paper over one of the most WTF-and-not-in-a-good-way final dramatic showdowns in recent memory.
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