Weird Watch: ‘Beyond the Black Rainbow’

Drew Dietsch

Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Star Wars, there is a Starcrash. For every Batman, there is a Condorman. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the 2010 Canadian sci-fi Beyond the Black Rainbow. (Last week: Dark Star)

Not all Weird Watch films are good. To be frank, a lot of oddball movies are downright bad. However, lots of lesser cinema is worth watching simply because there is something truly special worth highlighting. That’s the case with this weekend’s film, Beyond the Black Rainbow. The narrative is threadbare, the pacing is glacial, and there’s little to nothing that evokes any kind of strong emotional investment in the characters. After criticisms like that, you’d think there would be no reason to recommend Beyond the Black Rainbow.

beyond the black rainbow man in red suit reflected in a multitude of mirrors

But, the film excels so incredibly in two fields — tone and style — that it’s worth checking out for those alone. Beyond the Black Rainbow is the writing and directing debut of Panos Cosmatos, son of cult director George P. Cosmatos (TombstoneRambo: First Blood Part II). Cosmatos drew inspiration from the VHS covers he used to see at a local video store when he was a child, and decided to dream up a movie that, “is a sort of imagining of an old film that doesn’t exist.” In that regard, I say he succeeded. Beyond the Black Rainbow is dreamy to a fault, often creating a mesmerizing effect that’s dangerously hypnotic.

The story involves a cult-like research facility called the Arboria Institute that has been trying to find a way to merge both science and spirituality. Its leader, Mercurio Arboria, is a New Age scientist who engages in intense experiments meant to help humanity achieve transcendence. Arboria’s protégé, Dr. Barry Nyle, is subjected to one of these experiments and it drives him mad. It also affects his physical features, leaving him hairless and with pitch black eyes.

beyond the black rainbow 3

Our real main character is Elena, a young girl who is trapped in the Arboria Institute and wants to escape. Elena somehow has psychic abilities, including telepathy and telekinesis. As the movie unfolds, we see how Nyle is keeping Elena imprisoned and exactly why she’s so important to him.

As I said before, this movie is so fascinating when it comes to pure visuals. Nearly any screenshot is gorgeous, with the retro-future aesthetic emphasizing striking geometry. The design work in the film is unarguably stellar. The other strongest component of Beyond the Black Rainbow is its score. Jeremy Schmidt of the band Black Mountain provides a haunting synthetic score that is worth listening to even if you skip the movie. It’s like what would happen if Daft Punk scored Phantasm.

It’s a shame that Cosmatos hasn’t directed anything since Beyond the Black Rainbow. While his script was a little too vapid, his unique eye and love of throwback cinema make him a worthy director. Unlike the tongue-in-cheek modernism of films like Planet Terror and MacheteBeyond the Black Rainbow feels like a sincere representation of a movie lost in time. It hearkens back to films like George Lucas’ THX 1138 and even Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is the true litmus test for a Weird Watcher. It isn’t a great movie — it’d be tough to even call it a good movie — but it’s a genuine and uncompromised vision that deserves to be seen and talked about more than it currently is.

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