Despite being under heavy sedation, a young woman tries to make her way out of the Arboria Institute, a secluded, quasifuturistic commune.Despite being under heavy sedation, a young woman tries to make her way out of the Arboria Institute, a secluded, quasifuturistic commune.Despite being under heavy sedation, a young woman tries to make her way out of the Arboria Institute, a secluded, quasifuturistic commune.
Like Cosmatos' heavily stylized Mandy - which is a unique sight to behold in spite of its callbacks to grindhouse horror, Heavy Metal, et al - 2010's Beyond the Black Rainbow mixes several old-school visions to create a journey into the unknown that (in spite of it all but very fittingly) is unlike anything I've seen with my mortal eyes. It does have more style than substance, unfortunately, and one can get bored by it. Still, it may put you in too much of a trance for you to switch it off.
Most fascinating among the main characters is Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), who runs the Arboria Institute, described as "a New Age research facility dedicated to finding a reconciliation between science and spirituality", in 1983, now conducting experiments to unlock the psychic abilities of young captive Elena (Eva Allan). The elderly Dr. Arboria, who founded the institute, is also being kept at the facility, alongside several once-human lifeforms.
Nyle is also not quite the person he once was. We learn that he was Arboria's star pupil and that the final stage of his training, where he was intended to achieve transcendence, unleashed something evil. Michael Rogers plays him in a way where you can believe that a man this broken could exist. As with the recent Joker, we follow Nyle on a journey where he becomes "himself" and finally smiles.
Again, there is much to recognize here. The camera work will undoubtedly bring Kubrick to mind, certain body horror elements are out of Cronenberg's playbook, the colored lighting of certain scenes are very Argento, one sequence resembles THX, another resembles Begotten, and there is one set in particular that would be at home in Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain.
I also mentioned Carpenter earlier, and his influences are also present in Sinoia Caves' soundtrack, which is currently one of my absolute favorites in cinema (it is certainly my most played album on Spotify this year). I read that Tangerine Dream and the music from The Shining were also part of the "blueprints".
I get to wondering: why was I more bothered by the blatant influences in, say, The Neon Demon from 2016? Nicolas Winding Refn, its director, likes to reference many of the same auteurs and eras as Cosmatos, yet I find that Cosmatos has managed to create his own universe of strangeness altogether, whereas Neon Demon seemed more like it was aping other films. I'm not sure why. Maybe because The Neon Demon tried to have interesting characters on some level, and then didn't deliver.
Beyond the Black Rainbow, meanwhile, is very unabashedly not about that. Its aim is to take you beyond the borders of our reality (even if this surreal alternate '86 still has commentary to offer), whether you meet any realistic people on the other side or not. The movie does have a few hollow moments because of it (it wouldn't have hurt if we knew a bit more about Elena before she broke, or if she was more of an audience surrogate), but I have faith that Cosmatos will one day so completely transport me that I don't care if I even see a human face the entire film.
7 is my current rating. I intend to see the film again; I feel like this is one of those movies where the atmosphere and the viewer's state of mind will determine if it is a "meh" or a 10/10. It is nonetheless a deeply fascinating movie that, in spite of my above statements, I can't fully compare to much of anything:
- Oct 20, 2019