Beyond the Black Rainbow [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Magnolia Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (19th March 2013).
The Film

It isn’t very often I see films that have an almost total lack of substance, yet the film is so visually catching I can’t help but like it. That was the position I found myself in after a second viewing of “Beyond the Black Rainbow” (2010), a movie I was initially lukewarm on the first time I saw it. This was last year, and at the time I saw it as a movie with zero plot elements and such a heavy overreliance on aesthetics that it should’ve been a how-to guide for set designers rather than a feature film. Cut to this year, and after giving it a second chance (since I really did love the visuals and score) my opinion has softened considerably. I still think there isn’t nearly enough going on to keep most moviegoers from bailing out halfway through, but if you can decipher some of the writing and enjoy watching a movie seemingly intent on melting your brain, then this might be up your alley.

Should I even bother to take an entire sentence to explain what’s going on here? I’m being a little facetious, but it is somewhat true. At the Arboria Institute, the nefarious and slightly androgynous Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers) keeps a close watch on his most prized patient, Elena (Eva Allan). She appears to possess telekinetic and extrasensory mental powers which are so strong that Dr. Nyle keeps them suppressed using a big glowing triangle (seriously), leaving her in a semi-catatonic state for most of her stay.

That’s really about it. The film takes a very Kubrick-ian approach in its attempt to tell a story through aesthetics and set design rather than exposition. Shots are very meticulously staged and blocked out, with lots of static camerawork and long, sweeping dolly shots. Often times the camera will sit in one location and focus on an object while the droning synth score lulls viewers into an almost hypnotic state. The set design is decidedly retro-future. A title card at the beginning informs us the year is 1983, and it absolutely looks it in every sense. That’s one of my favorite aspects of the film, really. There have been more than a few recent films that attempted to emulate a period in time and failed miserably through the fault of one anachronism or another. Not here. Everything feels so authentic that if you weren’t watching this on Blu-ray (say you picked up one of the limited VHS releases they put out) you’d never know it wasn’t a long-lost movie from the early 80's.

In addition to obvious Kubrick influences, you can point to many of director Panos Cosmatos’ other films of reference. And, yes, if you were wondering he is the son of the late director George P. Cosmatos. Much of the retro-future design harkens back to films like “Logan’s Run” (1976) and “THX-1138” (1971), with their international style facades and stark, Spartan-like living arrangements. “Beyond the Black Rainbow” also makes heavy use of colored gels to alter the lighting of a scene dramatically, usually in a shade of red. The colors give a psychedelic quality to the modernist sets, something that felt very reminiscent of Mario Bava’s work. Bava was well-known for his use of colored gels in lighting to give his low-budget pictures a more professional look. It worked for him then, and it works for Cosmatos now. As resplendent as the sets looks throughout, the visuals take a major turn toward the insane when we get a flashback to Arboria’s beginnings in 1966. If you’ve never taken acid, you’ll feel like you have once that sequence is over.

There isn’t much to crow about in terms of acting. We spent the most time with Dr. Nyle, but as with all the others characters we learn little about him and he has no arc or development. Rogers does a commendable job with the role, though. There’s an Anthony Perkins quality to his mannerisms and physical appearance that produces the right level of uncertainty about his character just on a visual basis alone. His creepiness intensifies exponentially in the third act (which I’m basing more on running time and less on the fact there’s any real structure at play here) when the movie becomes a standard stalk-and-slash picture. Again, I’m not complaining but it feels jarring considering the methodical pacing and slow-burn approach of the film up to that point.

The score by Jeremy Schmidt is a high point for the film. It’s a heavy synth score that recalls the works of Alan Howarth, Goblin, or the arrangements of the late Jon Lord. Powerful and encompassing, it’s the kind of bass-heavy effort that can anchor a film and will absolutely keep you anchored to your seat. I don’t understand why it hasn’t been released yet.

Video

The film features a 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image, but it’s a bit tough to grade a movie like this since it’s intentionally graded to look old and worn. The filmmakers don’t just show us it’s 1983 by using a title card; they need us to feel like we’re there, too. The film opens with a video that’s from the 60's, looking like a Super 8 relic or something. Once the film proper launches, everything has taken on a grainy, aged look that is wholly representative of what the filmmakers were aiming to achieve. Imagine seeing a film from 1983 on Blu-ray that has only undergone minor restoration and you’ll get an idea of how this image looks. There is a healthy grain structure in place adding to the aesthetic even more. The image has numerous specks and white flecks, even a rogue white line or two slices down the screen from time to time. Black levels are intentionally hazy and dulled; although once we leave the institute near the film’s climax the true outdoor blacks of night don’t look quite so anemic. Visually, we’re seeing exactly what was intended; and while it may not be perfect, it is perfectly suited to the film.

Audio

An English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit is the film’s default track. As I had mentioned earlier, the film’s score is sublime. Their heavy analog synth approach produces a hypnotic sound field that will lull viewers into a relaxed state. Much of their work is droning, with a heavy emphasis placed on bass reverberations intended to quake your inner foundations. It’s minimalist, but in all the right ways. Rear speakers are often used effectively to pan the score around the listener. What little dialogue there is always comes through crisp and clean, never indistinguishable under the pounding score. Subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Sadly, we get very little here.

“Deleted Special Effect: Ballistic Head Dissolving” (1080/60p) featurette runs for 3 minutes and 21 seconds. Exactly as it suggests, this is footage of a dummy head dissolving. It isn’t even something cut from the film, as it was clearly shot on a soundstage with no other effects.

A theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 21 seconds.

Bonus trailers (1080p) are included for the following Magnolia releases:

- “Apartment” runs for 2 minutes and 20 seconds.
- “Headhunters” runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.
- “AXS promo” runs for 39 seconds.

Packaging

The single 25GB disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case. The cover art is mysterious, arcane, and kinda b*tchin’. I’d definitely be intrigued if I saw it on a shelf, assuming you can even find a place that still stocks more obscure releases anymore.

Overall

This is not a film for everyone. In fact, it’s probably only for a small segment who enjoy esoteric and suggestive works. But it’s an unsettling trip; a bizarre ride through yesteryear accompanied by a mesmerizing score and old-school visuals. It took me two viewings, but I’m definitely a fan.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: A- Extras: D+ Overall: B-

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.