Film Review: 'Beyond the Black Rainbow'

Prepare for a visual journey. Magnet Films

Panos Cosmatos's "Beyond the Black Rainbow" is the best looking non-slasher slasher film since "Drive."

That's to say, both films hypnotize viewers with a phenomenal visual style and a fantastic retro synth score. Both films descend somewhat unexpectedly into slasher horror movie motifs in their third acts. The difference is that while "Drive" told a traditional and solid story (albeit at a slow pace), "Beyond the Black Rainbow" attempts something far more ambiguous, ambitious and even slower.

The movie takes us back to a VHS-fueled 1983, where an ominous scientist named Barry (Michael Rogers) observes a mysterious mute girl named Elena (Eva Allan) within the confines of a highly-stylized scientific facility. Think a healthy mix of Kubrick's "2001" and Don Coscarelli's "Phantasm" -- that's the sort of world the film takes us through.

In time, we learn that both the scientist and the girl are the product of a late-6os new-age pharmaceutical cult. Both exhibit psychic abilities. Only while the girl emerges from this psychedelic baptism with a profound connection to nature, Barry is, well, a bit of a mess.

Lovely poster.
Magnet Films

"Beyond the Black Rainbow" is beautiful to behold. The trailer promises a trippy visual experience and the film doesn't disappoint on that count. Jeremy Schmidt's electronic score is fabulous, calling on notes from various classic 70s and 80s synth scores. But the film itself is a phenomenally slow burn and not one that takes the viewer to a particularly satisfying climax.

Indeed, the film tries on the slasher gloves fairly late in the film. As the poster art indicates, a skin-headed, spice-eyed Barry grabs a leather jumpsuit and a kitchen knife and stalks about like a homicidal Maynard James Keenan. A couple of red-shirt teens awkwardly wander into the picture and the expected happens, though only one of the deaths feels in keeping with the film's earlier obsession with LSD-fueled pyramid cults.

"Drive" succeeded because for all its stylish flourishes, it fully embraced its genre roots. When it went Peckinpah, it went Peckinpah all the way. It dug into its crime, western and slasher influences with equal measure. "Beyond the Black Rainbow" only dabbles with horror. A zombie here. A mutant there. A brief dance with the knives in the dark. Otherwise, it wallows in arty ambiguity and lets the superior audio/visual elements roll over us.

So if you're in the mood for a slow, beautiful journey to nowhere in particular, check the movie out. Really, if you're in the right mindset, "Beyond the Black Rainbow" is quite a worthwhile viewing experience. And Michael Rogers is mesmerizing in it. You might know him best for his bit part as Quan Chi in the 2011 Web series "Mortal Kombat: Legacy" or his various TV roles over the years, but his ample screen time here really gives him a chance to shine.

But how good might "Beyond the Black Rainbow" have been if it had truly embraced some of the horror elements that inspired it? We'll never know, but Panos Cosmatos still impresses with his feature film debut, so here's hoping his storytelling powers come to match his stylistic flair.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.