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The Ultimate Trip

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

During Beyond the Black Rainbow, I found myself more than once thinking of The Tree of Life. It could be that both are incredibly non-linear tours de forces. Or it could be that Beyond the Black Rainbow features a segment that one could say recalls Terence Malick’s creation scenes more than just a little. However, instead of what is essentially an epic revamp of Fantasia‘s The Rite of Spring passage, here we get a total mind melt sci-fi acid trip that provokes an unholy nightmarish wonder. This much I am certain of: Both are films sprung from the minds of fiercely unique and uncommon talents.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is not a film for those who seek a plot that progresses logically, scenes that sensibly lead from point A to point B or any type of concise conclusion. A cute, mute and psychically inclined young woman named Elena (Eva Allan) is kept imprisoned in a retro futuristic institution. Once a day Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), drops by under the guise of what appears to be a counseling session but actually seems much more like some endurance test in which they both have an equal stake. Everything is very sterile Kubrick, very THX 1138 and Cronenberg dire, very Argento lighted. And lest I forget, there’s a huge pulsating white triangle. Is it a metaphor? Is it something physically at the institution? Is it something that exists only in the mind of one of the characters or is it something that is used for mind control and manipulates the characters? What does it mean? Don’t ask me. More than anything, even passing similarities to The Tree of Life, I was reminded of a bad dream I had as a child while under anesthesia. The film is not dialogue heavy. What is spoken is not especially important: “You’re looking more and more like your mother every day”; “If you’re hungry there is some brown rice and steamed asparagus in the refrigerator”; “I looked into the eye of God” (well, OK, maybe that one is a little significant). The director, Panos Cosmatos, has said that as a child he was never allowed to watch horror films (incidentally, his father directed Rambo: First Blood Part II, Leviathan and Of Unknown Origin) but was fascinated by their VHS covers at the video store. Denied the opportunity to partake of such delicacies and inspired by the cassette sleeve artwork, he dreamt up his own stories, some of which come into play here. You can definitely see how the seeds of this tale could be planted and germinate in such a scenario and it is a great service to the film (and a great favor to the audience) if you watch the movie with that bit of background information in mind.

This film is fascinating. It will definitely reward multiple viewings. Each scene builds upon the next, each feeling like a delicious portent, each an essential piece to the puzzle. That the film was able to spread such tension over the course of the entire runtime and that the unrelenting unease never flags is a remarkable achievement – especially considering this is the director’s first film. You can feel the difference between a director (or writer) who doesn’t have anything significant to say and tries to mask that absence by obscurification and a director (or writer) who has a sure voice but doles out only certain details and deliberately denies us in aid of furthering a mystery and fulfilling his own vision. Cosmatos seems to be quite firmly in the later category. Always you feel you are in the hands of a master craftsman. And what wonders he surely has in store to dazzle us with. When his narrative muscles are as mature as his eye for visual detail and his ear for sonic delight – well, that is something I eagerly look forward to. (If Dimension Films had any sense they would immediately hire Cosmatos to direct the long gestating Hellraiser remake project.)

For what really makes the film are the hypnotic, hallucinogenic images and the out of this world score by Jeremy Schmidt (though Cosmatos demonstrates he knows how to use silence to equally disquieting effect). The compositions are lush, beautifully framed and exceptionally shot with colors that ooze off the screen. The soundtrack is a force unto itself, a moody synth score that has been rightfully compared to the work of John Carpenter. It is the music, perhaps more than anything, that is the beating heart of the film and supplies it with soul – a sinister, part robotic, drug degraded soul.

The performances are all top-notch. Michael Rogers is exemplary. Sinister and pathetic, often at the same time, he never tips over into caricature, which is important in a film where notions of good and evil, right and wrong, human and non, are so mercurial. We are never quite certain of his alliances or motivations, even as he is clasping a blade christened “the devil’s teardrop” and closing in on a very exposed and vulnerable Elena. I was unable to hate his character, which is a major testament to Roger’s ability.

Eva Allan should also be commended for her subtlety and depth, especially when you consider her character utters only one line. Allan humanizes a role that could have easily been a reductive cipher. She allows a range of life and experience, heartbreak and bravery to illuminate her face and ignite her eyes.

I really don’t think there is anything else out there like Beyond the Black Rainbow, even if, despite all that has led up to it, the ending does prove to be a bit structurally conventional and some of the concluding scenes bear more than a few similarities to Rob Zombie’s oeuvre. The final image that closes out the film and the implications it leaves us with are haunting. I can’t stop thinking about this film and I can’t wait to see it again. Now I got to get that soundtrack. B+


2 responses to “The Ultimate Trip

  1. James Gracey April 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I’ve never even heard of this until now. It sounds fascinating! Must keep an eye out for it.

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