Beyond The Black Rainbow – Review

Beyond The Black Rainbow – Review

Review by FilmFellaHenry – 7.0/10

The year is 1983. With rapid advances in science and the rise of New Age therapy, the Arboria Institute is born: a facility dedicated to reshaping your life through the use of ‘benign pharmacology, sensory therapy and energy sculpting.’  Centering on the relationship between patient Elena (Eva Allan) and her doctor Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), it soon becomes clear that Arboria has more in common with a futuristic drug cult than an experimental treatment complex.

It’s obvious that director Panos Cosmatos has created a blatant homage to ‘80’s sci-fi. Permeated throughout with a moody analogue synth score, Beyond The Black Rainbow sports a simplistic brightly coloured visual style, with a palette of glaring red white and black. There’s even an added softening to the image complete with grain and gate hairs for that low budget VHS copy feel. As an ‘80’s kid, I thought it looked great.

Superficially the choice of an 80’s setting seems purely a stylistic choice; however, the prominent synthetic recreational drug culture that was beginning to boom around that era gives it more relevance than simply aesthetic whim. In essence, Beyond The Black Rainbow is one long psychotropic binge, indulged by patient and doctor alike. Exposing a time where advances in pharmaceuticals were hailed as the cure for pretty much anything, Beyond The Black Rainbow can be seen as an allegory for how unrestrained experimentation with drugs can result in psychological and physiological changes beyond prediction and control. Then again, it may all just be a series of images that look nice.

And that’s where Beyond The Black Rainbow begins to have problems. Having invested so much with the stylistics, Cosmatos seems to have forgotten the fundamental element of a good film: narrative. Although a vague notion of a story can be discerned, it is simply not fleshed out enough, lacking vital characterisation and, dare I say it, some much needed exposition. The film seems to stumble from one bizarre hallucination (or is it real? Who knows) to another, omitting any clear history and motive of the two key players Elena and Nyle. The result is a confusing compilation of montages culminating in a surprisingly abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion.

The problems with Beyond The Black Rainbow aren’t insurmountable. Around 20mins of visual indulgence could easily be removed, replaced with some exposition and stronger characterisation. Further inclusion of other patients would have given the operation scale, and a point of comparison for Elena. In addition, a re-write of the last act wouldn’t go amiss either, along with a reduction in the surreal.

That all said, I definitely enjoyed Beyond The Black Rainbow. The blend between horror, sci-fi and surrealism is certainly interesting, presented with a stylistic flair sadly amiss within the majority of today’s cinema. While possessed of enough flaws to limit the film to a work in progress, Beyond The Black Rainbow shows enough directorial ability and imagination to make Cosmatos a name to watch.


About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

3 Responses to Beyond The Black Rainbow – Review

  1. Mark Walker says:

    Great review man. In dying to see this. I think it was yourself that brought it to my attention a little while ago. After seeing the trailer, I was hooked. I look forward to getting a hold of this.

    • filmfellahenry says:

      Thanks Mark. Despite its narrative flaws, the film is still an interesting watch and worth seeing. The retro look fits perfectly and shows obvious passion for that era of film making, which is commendable. Cosmatos reveals a lot of potential, I just hope he doesn’t go the same way as Ti West, who showed great stylistic promise with House Of The Devil, then nosedived with The Innkeepers.

      • Mark Walker says:

        Yeah, it definitely on my wish list. As for Ti West, I’ve only recently came across him. I thought The Inkeepers had real potential but squandered it in it’s denouement. Total Film magazine gave it 5 stars as well. Not deserving of that in the slightest.

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