Who really needs drugs when there are screen offerings like “Beyond the Black Rainbow” around? A psychedelic voyage into center of the mind, this sci-fi/horror hybrid is a visual humdinger, immersing the viewer in a liquid landscape of hallucinations and hellish visitations. It’s a movie that’s nearly impossible to disregard, but it’s also one of the slowest pictures I’ve come into contact with so far this year. “Beyond the Black Rainbow” demands submission, otherwise the nightmarish funhouse experience is going to feel like a long Sunday afternoon watching DVRed C-SPAN reruns on half-speed. It’s a motion picture reserved for the most adventurous audiences around, matinee mavericks willing to fling themselves into an abyss of madness, guided by a filmmaker who’s seen more than his fair share of Laser Floyd.
Large sections of “Beyond the Black Rainbow” are simply indescribable, which is a major part of the feature’s appeal, often reaching past storytelling lucidity to dig into abstract visuals buttressed by almost a complete lack of plot. Writer/director Panos Cosmatos makes quite an impression for his helming debut, launching his career with a widescreen fever dream coated in candy colors, glowing sets, and scored to an insanely atmospheric synth throb that swirls sonic paradise with a heavy John Carpenter influence.
Although it opens with a commercial of sorts for the Arboria Institute, with Dr. Barry cautiously verbalizing the mission of the organization, “Beyond the Black Rainbow” is quick to ditch coherence for a fiercely interpretive odyssey into the mind games shared between Dr. Barry, who puts forth an image of medical concern, and Elena, a feral creature locked in white room with limited stimuli, fearful of the unknown energy that blocks her mental reach. Cosmatos is patient, soaking in his atmosphere of glowing bricks and hazy lighting, handled masterfully by cinematographer Norm Li (the unofficial star of the movie), who gives the feature a 1983 look without a chirpy retro glaze, finding subtle discomfort in period fashions and crude technologies. The feature is extraordinary to watch, offering delirious visions that hypnotize and repulse, with distinct Cronenbergian encouragement that merges the magic of thought with the puzzle of flesh.
Thankfully, Cosmatos has provided an exhaustive cinematic experience, since his storytelling skills leave much to be desired. Purposefully withholding details about character motivations and histories, the feature tends to dwell on the abstract, with tantalizing glimpses of movement trapped under the ice of execution. Committed performances from Rogers and Allan are diluted by the absence of emotional texture, though both actors are ideally suited for such extreme imagery. A section of the picture is interested in feeling out Dr. Barry’s personal mission to meet God through chemistry (a wild sequence shot with an overwhelming use of white), but it’s only a fleeting moment in a film devoted to the art of disorientation, filling the frame with monster encounters and towering “Sentionauts,” enforcers who stalk the halls of the Arboria Institute. There’s a lot to take in. I just wish it wasn’t all so cold to the touch.
“Beyond the Black Rainbow” is engineered to confound and disturb, creating a specialized moviegoing atmosphere for art-house daredevils. It’s a convincing effort with an unbelievable alien landscape to survey. Although it fails to achieve a dramatic stranglehold, the phantasmagoric pressure of the picture is amazing to feel, making the distinct lack of urgency throughout the enterprise worth enduring.