Beyond science, beyond sanity, and beyond control, Beyond the Black Rainbow is the disturbing, 80's styled sci-fi nightmare I wasn't particularly sure I wanted, and still am not completely sure I'm glad to have found. More a series of hypnotic and sadistically dreamlike imagery than a cohesive whole with a beginning, middle, and end, Greek director Panos Cosmatos has said the film was inspired by hazy memories of watching Saturday morning cartoons, and sneaky viewings of midnight movies during his childhood. Though it's easy to see where this childhood influence on the film comes from, it feels more like a graphic visualization of one's "bad trip" while on a powerful hallucinogenic drug. Characters smoothly drift in and out, entire subplots are referenced then quickly abandoned, possible twists are acknowledged but never again referenced. It all feels like a dream functioning in present time; a place where people and images flash into existence and then immediately disappear, and new figures and visuals take their place only to inevitably exit as well. The film is in a constant loop of adding characters and plots while discarding the old, occasionally pausing for slight character development for one of the film's few constant players, or a complete non-sequitur with particularly excellent and mesmerizing cinematography. It almost exists in a complete alternate universe of its own; where imagery takes far higher precedence over all other aspects of filmmaking.
Though Beyond the Black Rainbow's ability to differentiate itself from other films in the sci-fi/horror genre is through its visual collage highlighting Cosmatos' strange imagination, it's also the largest flaw. Running at almost two hours, without real plot to carry it forward, Cosmatos relies almost entirely on the visuals, which despite being excellent eye candy, cannot support a film that long. In my personal opinion, it might've worked better as a short, more similar to the Saturday cartoons than the midnight movies. With a much reduced runtime, the visuals would probably be enough to drive the short, and the general feeling of plotlessness would be much less noticeable. Also, a bizarre (even by the film's grandiose standards) and almost completely unnecessary 1960's set flashback sequence could be cut. For approximately 20 minutes, though it felt like it easily could've been longer, the already strange film goes off on a tediously perturbing, back and white shot tangent involving a supporting character performing a surreal experiment on himself. Even in a film that isolates and confuses its audience as much as this, this sequence drives it to a breaking point in terms of disquieting visuals, and is never able to return to the already insane middle-ground where it was before.
With so much focus on the bizarre images, the performances have a bad habit of sliding under the radar. Michael Rogers delivers an equally detached and subtly terrifying performance as Dr. Barry Nyle, a somewhat maniacal scientist who operates the New Age facility where the film is set. Slowly growing more unhinged as the film progresses, Rogers plays Nyle as if he was an alien: A man completely isolated from the world surrounding him because of his unique employment, and his unusual past. Also very good is Eva Allen, who plays the mute captive of the facility, Elena. Despite playing a non-vocal character, Allen plays this relatively undefined protagonist well enough, that despite her violent impulses we still root for her to escape from Nyle's dominating control.
Though the film may be far too long, Beyond the Black Rainbow is so unlike anything else I've seen at the theater that, if you're an adventurous moviegoer, I'd recommend it. Despite some flaws, Cosmatos has constructed an enigma of a feature that uses some of the strongest imagery and hauntingly beautiful cinematography to be featured in a film so far this year. If you journeyed beyond science, beyond sanity, and beyond control, there still wouldn't be enough madness to officially say you've gone Beyond the Black Rainbow.
Level of Terror: Scary