Probably the closest that we’ll ever get to a giallo film being made as part of the science fiction genre but when something like Beyond the Black Rainbow has used its own influences in this manner to be such a distinctive work, I can’t help but feel taken in by the experience. To describe what it is that Panos Cosmatos has created with Beyond the Black Rainbow is simple enough, it’s a film that pays homage to the horror and science fiction genres from the 70’s and the 80’s – but given the links that tie back to the artist behind such a dense work only showcase the film’s effectiveness on another level for Cosmatos happens to be the son of George P. Cosmatos of Rambo II and Tombstone fame. Nevertheless, the final results of Beyond the Black Rainbow are sure to baffle, and for the patient viewer, will provide enough to be an all-around fascinating experiment altogether.
There isn’t so much of a story to Beyond the Black Rainbow, but it’s a film whose visual style has allowed for it to create its own identity. The outline of Beyond the Black Rainbow appears simple enough, for we have a girl, Elena, being held captive at a mysterious institute where she becomes subjected to the experiments of a doctor searching for a sense of pure peace. But as Elena is staying there hoping for an escape, another deranged doctor whom she is expected to meet. Explaining a synopsis from this outline alone sounds simple but watching how everything is told in front of our eyes in Beyond the Black Rainbow will be the greater challenge it poses. And yet for a patient viewer, what they will find in Beyond the Black Rainbow is a greater reward – although there’s no doubt that this isn’t going to be a film whose genre experimentation will work for everyone.
It’s never easy to tell what exactly is going on in Beyond the Black Rainbow, but given the film’s running time it only feels fitting enough that the film is told as is. It’s fitting enough because in a giallo film, the visual style is crucial to what forms the narrative. Beyond the Black Rainbow is a film that uses homage as a means of creating an identity and it always makes obvious its own influences, which range from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or any of David Cronenberg’s early works of body horror. The cinematography is hypnotic enough, but add the soundtrack too which plays as a love note to Tangerine Dream and suddenly what comes by is not only a film whose era homages have been made obvious from the way it looks, but also playing with them in such a manner that adds up to a far more thoughtful experience below the surface.
Without a clear narrative it’s ambiguous as to what Cosmatos would have wanted to turn Beyond the Black Rainbow into, for some can find it an intensely philosophical experience whereas others may also find it empty and cold. I’m of the more positive outlook, because I already find it impressive enough that a most minimalist work would have already amped up its own aesthetics to such a degree it becomes its own self. It already begs a viewer to ask about what exactly is the “black rainbow” that its title mentions, and similarly the era where it is set and paying its dues towards calls for a commentary about baby boomers and their own perception of the world. Thematically, we are also being told a tale of the obsession for personal improvement, but the setting of the Arboria Institute is one that seems to regress upon this.
I find it impressive enough that this is what Panos Cosmatos has managed to form as a directorial debut feature, because in some sense it almost reminds me of a Lynchian effort – as if said influence wasn’t clear enough from the limited use of dialogue and visual storytelling. If the film couldn’t get any more ominous, the humanism would also have made everything clearer especially when one looks upon the performances that are present – because it’s already hard enough to tell who we are truly “rooting for” within the scenario that Cosmatos has formed here.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is an endlessly fascinating piece of work, but describing the sort of product it is will already pose a great challenge for the unprepared. For a film that could easily have been stylistic overload for a premise that seems deceptively simple enough, something far more intriguing comes by. I can’t say that I’m always behind the glacial pacing, because I already found it easy enough to be able to tell what films Beyond the Black Rainbow would be paying an homage to from how every scene is directed, written, or designed, but if anything else had come by as a result, it would be that it only adds up to why I find such a film hypnotic in the first place. Perhaps it may be the closest thing we can get to a crossover of science fiction and giallo, but at the same time I find myself wanting to watch it again because there seems to be a commentary of greater value present within, that still requires a debunking.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Magnet Releasing.
Directed by Panos Cosmatos
Screenplay by Panos Cosmatos
Produced by Oliver Linsley, Christya Nordstokke
Starring Michael Rogers, Eva Allen
Release Year: 2010
Running Time: 110 minutes