With his ambitious first feature, writer-director Panos Cosmatos emerges as a bold new visionary in science-fiction filmmaking. Beautifully shot and meticulously designed, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW takes place in an alternate 1986, where a secretive scientific operation called the Arboria Initiative is experimenting with mind-altering drugs in an attempt to explore the limitless possibilities of the human psyche. Their leading researcher, Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) oversees the treatment of a female patient, Alena (Eva Allen), who is kept imprisoned within a featureless cell devoid of access to the outside world. Does she possess telekinetic powers? Is she a creation or by-product of the institute's research, or does Alena represent the next step in our psychological evolution?
Cosmatos offers little in the way of explanation or exposition for audiences, and the film's narrative is loose at best and often difficult to pin down. The film commands your full attention and commitment, only to draw you deep inside its strange new world using an intense, hypnotic combination of dazzling visuals and deep, resonating audio. Cosmatos populates his retro-fitted future vision with cold, curiously ambiguous characters and unfamiliar, almost alien technology and architecture.
Cosmatos' influences are writ large across the screen throughout this beautifully orchestrated lo-fi odyssey. Tarkovsky's deliberate pacing and clinical tone inform much of the film's action, while Kubrick's grandiose operatics - albeit confined here by the neon-drenched walls of the Arboria Institute - dictates much of the film's distinct look and style. Throw in a healthy measure of Kenneth Anger's psychedelics and even John Carpenter's retro-chic interiors and you are some way to understanding where BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW will take you.
However, words are not the medium for describing the film's full potential and power, which can only be appreciated by simply letting go and indulging its grand ambitions. A similar recent comparison is Gaspar Noe's ENTER THE VOID, which while quite different in subject matter, has similar intentions in terms of reaching and stimulating its audience.
The film is not without its flaws. As previously mentioned the film asks a lot from its audience and will struggle to perform for a less than completely engaged viewer. Also, the film makes a huge shift in tone and style during its final five or ten minutes, which although deliberate and vital to the story being told, frustratingly jars the viewer from the trance-like experience that precedes it. These are but minor quibbles however in a film that literally throbs and pulsates with ideas and ambition. I have no doubt that the film will look gorgeous once it makes its way to Blu-ray, but there can be no better way of experiencing BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW than in the immersion tank that is the cinema, where you are oblivious to everything else except the vivid and startling noises and images that Cosmatos has conjured up. It is a trip that will likely infuriate and delight filmgoers in equal measure, but science-fiction aficionados can rest assured that Cosmatos has delivered one serious head-trip.
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