Directed by Panos CosmatosThe time is the far flung world of 1983. Founded by Dr. Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands), the sterile, futuristic Arboria Institute is founded on "benign pharmacology" dedicated to making a "better, happier you." In reality, the institute is ruled under the iron fist of Dr. Barry Nyle, a reptilian psychiatrist in turtlenecks. His sole patient is a teenage girl named Elena (Eva Allan) kept in a nearly catatonic state through medication. Nyle plays a series of sadistic mind games with Elena, assuring her "it's too bad you didn't know your mother ..." After a heavy day of emotional manipulation, the doctor retires to his sparsely furnished home that he shares with an older female relative, Rosemary (Marilyn Norry). Rosemary's identity is never fully explained - is she the doctor's wife? Sister? Mother? - in the manner of most of the characters in the film. Kept unaware of the doctor's true motivations, psychiatric nurse Margo (Rondel Reynoldson) discovers his hidden notebook full of pornographic sketches of Elena. Nyle's relationship to Elena is revealed, along with his diabolical intentions. Masks of polite humanity fall away, and Elena is forced to flee the garish fun-house corridors of the institute.
Sporting a title more suited to a solo album from Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, Beyond the Black Rainbow is brimming with lots of popular cultural references that genre fans will be sure to enjoy. A visual and aural delight - the analog synthesizer musical score by Jeremy Schmidt and Sinoia Caves is worth the price of admission alone, Rainbow calls to mind the micro-budgeted science fiction films of the early Seventies. Rainbow joins the distinguished company of such favorites of Creation of the Humanoids (1962), Dark Star (1974) and Idaho Transfer (1973) that all successfully created alien, otherworldly environments with only the paltriest of resources. This reviewer at one point thought the film was a knowing, hip homage to science-fiction films of the Sixties to which the year 1983 would be the far-flung future, as the promotional film for the Arborea Institute that opens the films bears a 1966 copyright. This theory is dashed when the audience is shown former U.S. President Ronald Reagan giving his impassioned "Star Wars" speech on an outsized TV screen, Rosemary fast asleep on a couch.
The odd tone Rainbow strives to achieve is akin to the scenes in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in which the mundane details of everyday life get in the way of the infinite reaches of the universe. For all of its heavy talk and portentous visuals, the ugly and banal continually finds its way into the institute. Examples include the discovery of the nigh-mummified Dr. Arboria in a disused room watching the same, tatty Hawaiian travel short over and over again in the manner of Howard Hughes. Rainbow's biggest laugh - this writer will share it with you at the expense of a "spoiler alert," is when Elena successfully dodges all the mutants and monsters hiding in the institute only to express horror when she stumbles into a shabby break room with a tacky plaid couch.Rainbow also references the opening scene in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), when the titular alien super-being played by David Bowie first touches down in a jury-rigged amusement park to be heckled by an old drunk. This bit of business comes towards the film's conclusion, the story ending so rudely and perfunctorily it will wrench a laugh from the gloomiest audience. A very bland synth-pop song, typical of those heard in 1983 is played over the end titles just in case anyone misses the very obvious jokes strewn throughout.While offering pleasurable drug-drenched visuals and a Brian Eno-like musical score, in addition to some mordant chuckles, not everyone will "get" Beyond the Black Rainbow. Younger viewers who didn't grow up when independent TV channels aired specious UFO documentaries late at night, ones where little else is shown but starry backdrops and a narrator saying things like "The universeis man alone in the universe?" probably won't appreciate the film's oblique tone. Beyond the Black Rainbow is a true cult movie, sure to equally alienate, as well as entertain viewers. This reviewer can't guarantee the reader will enjoy the film as much as I did, but it's ironic that my favorite film of 2012 thus far is one produced in 2010, set in 1983, just now presenting a fresh and nuanced vision to a bemused, questioning audience.