This debut from Canadian-Greek director Cosmatos is a charmingly incoherent, puzzling and astounding cinematic equivalent to tripping balls.
Using 35mm film, oversaturated coloring and a sinister synth soundtrack (from Black Mountain/Sinoia Caves dude Jeremy Schmidt, no less), at first glance, Beyond the Black Rainbow feels like it could have been lifted straight from the b-movie golden age. With over three years in production with only a limited one million dollar budget, Cosmatos’ labour of love adopts an amalgamation aesthetic. Blending Argento’s colour palette with Kubrick’s 2001 set design, Tarkovsky pacing and allegory, along with a smidge of Cronenberg lunacy. Instead of just paying homage to these lauded figures or relying on imitation, Cosmatos wears these influences on his sleeve and in turn creates something familiar yet completely fresh and inspired.
Set in a futurist 1986, Elena (Eva Allan) is a patient-cum-prisoner at a psychosis commune called Arboria. Heavily sedated, the brainwashed young prisoner desperately tries to escape the clutches of the clinic and its domineering patriarch, the demented ‘doctor’ Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers).
That’s about as far as the plot stretches for BtBR. Instead of being narrative driven, Cosmatos’ film is a cinephile’s take on psychedelia, minus the colour swirls and bad music. Meddling the line between reality and nightmare, the result is enthralling and organic, coming from the cerebrum of a self-confessed doobie brother (and the rest).
That’s not to say the film is overzealous mind. Cosmatos has his tongue forced firmly in his cheek, with the sparse dialogue being incongruously comic to the eerie visuals, particularly with Rogers’ authoritative character. Looking like a wig-wearing, unhealthy Christian Bale; his icy demeanor and doctor spiel is both terrifying and hilarious in equal measure.
Back on the drugs, BtBR is the perfect antidote to the trite free love, flower-power shtick. Menacing, uncomfortable and none more black, Cosmatos bridges a relationship between the audience and Elena who, even without muttering a single word, drives the film’s chillingly slow pace along, crawling around and longing for escape the asylum.
Coming from underrated film stock (his father is First Blood: Part 2 & Tombstone director George Cosmatos), the director clearly has an eye and ear for what works on the big screen. Although there is a bit of a seachange in the closing fifteen minutes where Cosmatos quite desperately attempts to tie up thematic loose ends, BtBR is a wholly hypnotic experience; sending you into a trance that is difficult to shake long after the gloriously trashy credits roll.
Refreshing the auteur style eighties b-movie which quite unabashedly merits style over substance, Beyond the Black Rainbow may be prove that, once again, the lunatics are taking over the asylum, with Cosmatos leading the pack. Totally bonkers and totally blissful. Watch the trailer here and prepare to go apeshit.