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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Beyond The Black Rainbow

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Like fragments of Stanley Kubrick, THX 1138, John Carpenter, Scanners, and a dozen other sci-fi and horror films melded by imperfect memory into an unstable whole, Beyond The Black Rainbow follows a dream logic that’s all the more persuasive for being impossible to follow entirely. The film concerns a mute girl (Eva Allan) with psychic powers being kept prisoner in Arborin, an institution that looks like it’s from the future circa the film’s announced year of 1983, and the doctor overseeing her treatment/captivity (Michael Rogers), who takes perverse but paternal pleasure in watching her via flickering monitors and prodding her in face-to-face sessions until she weeps. “You’re a very sick girl—you’re not well,” he tells her, a diagnosis that seems both his own convenient self-created narrative and an understatement, in that we see her kill someone with her mind when he chooses to power down the glowing crystal apparently keeping her talents in check.

Beyond The Black Rainbow is a giddy drug-trip of a movie, and not just because it melts into eerily surreal imagery during a central flashback scene that’s like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey if everything went horribly wrong. Even in its basic visual storytelling, it’s hyper-focused on sensory details—a dilating eye, a reflection in a pane of glass, the texture of a shag carpet, the seams on the face of an elderly man—like it’s being viewed by someone so high on acid he or she can’t pull back to put together the larger picture. Arborin’s minimalist hallways pulse red, while Allan’s room, empty save a cantilevered bed protruding from one wall, goes from blue to bright, sterile white. An era-appropriate synth score by Jeremy Schmidt throbs with unease as Rogers’ toying with his subject begins to take on a more ominous tone.

Writer-director Panos Cosmatos’ debut, Beyond The Black Rainbow is more surface than substance, but those surfaces are gleamingly polished enough to make for a hypnotic experiment that goes beyond genre pastiche or art-school wankery to seem formally daring. The film moves at a syrupy pace that feels as sedated as its main character, but throughout it has the inexorable pull of an unshakable nightmare, and in the smooth, malevolent planes of Rogers’ face it finds a villain who feels both fresh and ominously familiar.