Review of Beyond the Black Rainbow

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Despite being under heavy sedation, Elena tries to make her way out of Arboria, a secluded, quasi-futuristic commune.
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Movie Review: "Beyond the Black Rainbow"

--Rating: R (disturbing images, bloody violence, language, drugs, graphic sexual illustration)
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: May 20, 2012
Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Genre: Sci-Fi/Mystery/Thriller

When "Beyond the Black Rainbow" begins, it does so with a television advertisement for the Arboria Institute, a somewhat shadowy medical facility in a remote location. The commercial is meant to make the Institute look inviting, as if really great medical work is performed there.

The short commercial is probably the most normal-looking thing in a movie that is full of stunning and sometimes chaotic visuals. Director Panos Cosmatos is clearly trying to disorient the audience, using all kinds of graphic tactics to do so. This is not a normal movie in any sense of the word. The audience will be repeatedly challenged while viewing the film, but it is a thrilling challenge that makes it worth seeing this visually beautiful film through to its conclusion.

Though the commercial at the beginning of the film succeeds in making Arboria look friendly, it is anything but. The interiors are cold and angular and do not look inviting at all. The institute is supposed to be about happiness as the commercial suggests, yet everyone there looks very dour. This includes Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), who seems fixated on one patient in particular, a young woman named Elena (Eva Allan).

Elena walks about each day in a semi-comatose state. She doesn't seem to understand where she is at or why she is there. If she has any memory of where she came from or how she ended up this way, she does not betray it. In fact, she betrays little, as Dr. Nyle spends a good portion of the movie questioning her with no response.

The year is 1983, and cinematographer Norm Li is careful to display the era. In case the audience doesn't catch on, a speech by Ronald Regan plays in the background in one scene. The sharp, boxy lines and harsh lighting of the rooms at Arboria look like what you might expect from the early 1980s. In stark contrast is the soft and fragile-looking Elena, who clearly doesn't belong here. At one point she seems to try and communicate this with Dr. Nyle, who refuses to release her. At this point, the audience realizes that Elena is no mere patient. Instead, she is a prisoner.

The questions begs, what is Elena a prisoner of? This is just one of the many questions that will come up when viewing "Beyond the Black Rainbow." There are so many questions, in fact, that the audience may feel like they should be taking notes. In order to try and solve the puzzle of this film, you will have to pay close attention.

There are clues given along the way. One is in the form of a flashback to the year 1966, where a much younger Dr. Nyle is in a hospital that looks a lot like an older Arboria. He seems to be a part of some type of experiment that may have gone awry. There are also glimpses of some kind of disfigured humans living in the institute, though the images are too quick and fleeting for confirmation.

After the flashback, the movie becomes a series of loosely-tied vignettes that all seem to have only one theme-psychological horror. Towards the end of the movie, the horror goes from being strictly psychological to physical with plenty of bloodshed. In these scenes, it begins to evoke the slasher films that were just coming into prominence in 1983 with the introduction of Jason from the "Friday the 13th" franchise.

Director Panos Cosmatos says that the film is derived from a series of VCR movie covers that he saw as a kid. His strict parents would not let him watch the films, so he had to imagine for himself what the movies were about based solely on the covers. The fact that the movie is a series of vignettes lends credence to this story, as each part could have easily been one of those movie covers he was talking about.

All of this makes for a very artistic though not very plot-driven film. Those who like their movies to be linear in story with an easily defined plot may find "Beyond the Black Rainbow" to be too experimental for their tastes. On the other hand, those who like to solve a good puzzle and enjoy breathtaking cinematography will absolutely love this film. Add to it a spectacular soundtrack from Jeremy Schmidt and this may well be a movie that the audience wants to see multiple times for the visuals alone.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars