Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Exploring Beyond the Black Rainbow: A Movie Review (Blu-Ray)

*full disclosure: a Blu-Ray screener of this film was provided by Magnolia Home Ent.

Director/writer: Panos Cosmatos.

Cast: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry and Rondel Reynoldson.

It is often best to label a film experimental when it does not follow certain film patterns. Director Panos Cosmatos, son of George Cosmatos (Tombstone), seems almost uninterested in plot. Instead, Beyond the Black Rainbow focuses more on visual style and tone while trying to provide an interesting experience for viewers. This style will not be appreciated by the majority, but this hallucinogenic thriller held this watcher's attention all the way through.

Cinematographer Norm Li's approach to the film harkens back to '70s sci-fi. This era saw the rise of science fiction and many of Norm Li's sets, costumes and backgrounds allude to or pay homage to this time period. The setting for the film is 1983 and the set pieces, television broadcasts and costumes stay true to this era. The cinematography is one of the film's high points.

Less stellar is the film's story. It is simplistic. In essence, an underground lab, known as Arboria, is conducting experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. The purpose of these experiments is to fully tap into human awareness. Barry Nyle, played by Canadian actor Michael Rogers, is just such an experimentee. After travelling to the deepest realms of human consciousness, Nyle is changed somehow. He is now more of a psychopath and a sadist. Visions of another world seem to have changed this character for the worse. He cruelly tortures his daughter, Elena (Eva Allan) who is now the focus of Arborian experiments. And when the mad scientist rules the roost, events become unhinged quickly.

To explain more might dissolve some of the film's mystery. It is best to compare the film with others in order to ground the film in the more concrete. The character Elena is imbued with both telepathic and telekinetic powers. Her extended super human qualities made this watcher reminisce of Stephen King's Firestarter put to screen. The character here and in the 1984 film are both young female protagonists. In the film reviewed here, Elena is more naive to the world, but both characters are propelled to use their powers against their captors at some point. As well, there are elements of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey especially in the set design and tone. Both films have this dark mysterious vibe to them. There is a presence of evil. Cosmatos' shooting style and use of space are also similar to Kubrick's. Everything is overly lit. Both directors use medium shots to establish the character's relation to the environment around them. This reviewer was also reminded of 1973's Soylent Green where the plot is truly beyond bizarre. Soylent Green involved recycling the deceased for human consumption. Meanwhile, Beyond the Black Rainbow finds murder in drug trips. All of these comparisons only scratch the surface of what Cosmatos is trying to create here; this film is much more than these comparisons.

From other reviews, some patrons fell asleep during this film and others walked out of theatrical screenings. This film will truly polarize film fans. Yet, the visual style, tone and action will draw many in. Released on DVD and Blu-Ray September 11th, Beyond the Black Rainbow is more focused on creating an impression rather than telling a linear storyline. This approach to filmmaking is risky and this viewer feels that the risk paid off by creating a truly appealing aesthetic.

Overall: 8 out of 10 (not for everyone, experiential, psychedelic, visually stunning, often sombre or violent).

*special features on the Blu-Ray release include: a deleted special effect: ballistic head dissolve, and theatrical trailer.

**a director's commentary is needed for future releases.

A fan page for the film:

Beyond the Black Rainbow on Facebook

Read the comments on this review from Quiet Earth (Marina Antunes) to find out why the film is so polarizing:

Beyond the Black Rainbow at Quiet Earth

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