I heard all sorts of daunting things about the (very) dark science fiction film known as Beyond the Black Rainbow as it made its way across the festival circuit. "Indecipherable" is a word that was employed more than once. Phrases like "avant-garde," "experimental," and plain old "artsy-fartsy" were tossed out by the film's detractors -- although, to be fair, the movie has also earned a healthy parcel of acclaim -- even from some of the critics who didn't entirely get it.
That's where I come in: I don't entirely "get" all of the refreshingly weird Beyond the Black Rainbow, but the film is far from "indecipherable," provided you enjoy cerebral sci-fi that's just as interested in mood, tone, and visual presentation than it is in a traditional narrative structure. Actually, the film is considerably more interested in the former than in the latter, but that's certainly not a bad thing; vague, odd, intelligent, and sometimes slow-paced science fiction certainly had a place in the 1970s -- when we were offered Soylent Green, Logan's Run, Silent Running, A Boy and His Dog, the kooky but ambitious Zardoz, and a slew of others: sci-fi flicks that were more about intelligent ideas than soaring spaceships or ravenous aliens.
First-time writer/director Panos Cosmatos takes no easy routes with Beyond the Black Rainbow. The basic plot is this: the year is 1983, and a scientist (who also seems to be sort of a psychic) is keeping a pretty young woman captive in a stark and clinical facility.The examiner is clearly a cold and callous observer; the victim is obviously a vulnerable creature with a very special talent. One could easily take the central premise of Beyond the Black Rainbow and describe it in very simplistic terms -- it's a sci-fi thriller with an element of escape-and-chase dynamics -- but then you'd be selling the film short. Beyond the Black Rainbow feels like an homage to the low-budget, high-intellect science fiction films of 40 years ago, but it also comes off as a unique and invigorating addition to the genre in its own right. Horror fans will certainly appreciate the film's stark, almost apocalyptic tone, and while I don't want to spoil anything, it's safe to tell you thatBeyond the Black Rainbow goes to some nightmarish places, both metaphorically and very gorily.
The captor is played with a fascinating, multi-dimensional malice by Canadian actor Michael Rogers, and young Eva Allen, here asked to do some truly strange stuff, manages to keep the protagonist worthy of our sympathy in even the oddest of situations. The highlight(s) of the film, however, arrive in the form of the audio/visual artistry presented by Cosmatos, cinematographer Norm Li, and the art directors, production artists, and sound designers who collaborated to create a science fiction world that feels sinister, familiar, and new at the same time. What some may dismiss as a sci-fi flick being "weird for weird's sake," I see as a concerted effort to present something challenging, creative, and lyrical. There's room for films of all shapes and sizes in the realm of science fiction, and it's reassuring to know that some people still approach the genre with some ambiguity, creativity, and plain old weirdness.