Starring Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, and Scott Hylands. Unrated. Opens Friday, July 6, at the Vancity Theatre
The Vancouver-made Beyond the Black Rainbow induces one of the most visceral responses to a movie since the roaring din that was David Lynch’s Eraserhead. With its pulsing red and blue lights, and the constant mechanical buzzing and retro synths, Panos Cosmatos’s debut is about experience over story line. Reading like a love letter to David Cronenberg’s Scanners, Andrey Tarkovskiy’s Solaris, and just about every kitschy science-fiction flick released in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s a disorienting mind fuck—in the best possible way.
Admittedly, shiny plastic sentinel droids and flashing tetrahedrons may not be your thing. And for many viewers, Cosmatos’s purposefully lumbering and cryptic experiment will be frustrating. But if you’re sick of the same old and long for a time when directors took risks, this may be what you’re craving.
Set in 1983, the movie takes place in the new-age Arboria Institute, where a girl (Eva Allan) is held captive by the menacing Dr. Nyle (a fantastically creepy Michael Rogers). She is, clearly, sedated, but she also seems able to fight back with mind powers—which our turtlenecked doctor can quell with a glowing, pyramidlike light in a hidden room.
From there, the story gets much, much weirder and wilder, without a whole lot happening. Cosmatos builds the claustrophobia to suffocating heights, creating a druggy sense of doom with extreme close-ups of everything from expanding pupils to cigarette ashes. Much of the mood comes from Black Mountain’s Jeremy Schmidt, whose John Carpenter–styled synthesizer adds to the aural nightmare.
The result is a mashup of psychedelic sci-fi like Altered States, futuristic institutional nightmares like Coma, and even ’80s slasher flicks. And yet Rainbow finds a stylized new language all its own.
The best advice is to approach it as a sort of space-age fever dream (with or without chemicals of your choice). Leave conventional logic at home, and, as the Arboria Institute’s eerie ad promises at the beginning of the film, you might just find a new, better, happier you.
Watch the trailer for Beyond the Black Rainbow.