I really wanted to like this film. I really did. Based in 1983, but filmed in 2010, Beyond is an over-indulgent slab of that era’s sense of science-fiction and terror, drawing from the same pool that also informed Mass Effect’s aesthetic. I was introduced to this quirky little piece of Canadian cinema by Videodrome on our very own forums and I must’ve watched the trailer thirty or forty times, something that hasn’t happened since the first, dark trailer was released for Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly. But Beyond is less interested in being a story and more interested in being a tribute to obvious benefactors like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris and less obvious ones like Enter the Void or even the stylish cruelty of Salad Fingers.
That Beyond the Black Rainbow is oppressively slow was hardly an issue because I truly wanted to invest in this universe. The best way I can describe Beyond is that it’s very much a cinematic onion, because unlike a pinata where stripping away layers would reveal plot-revealing candy, Beyond simply becomes less of a movie. In the opening minutes of the film, we’re treated to a trippy video brochure for the Arboria Institute, a facility for self-improvement obviously not approved by any kind of theraputic Bar Association. It looks like a formal invitation to join Scientology or some other freakish cult. When we cut away to the Arboria of “today”, it’s revealed that this facility is really just a cage for a single, beautiful woman under the watchful eye of Dr. Barry Nyle. This woman, Elena, is gifted with mental powers and must be sedated under the power of a glowing glass pyramid while Nyle obsesses over her behind the observation glass. We’re even given some insight into Nyle’s home life, but it’s not there to explain things, but provide a buffer between all the shots of Arboria’s stark, oppressive hallways.
We’re teased further when an assistant accidentally picks out Nyle’s notebook, revealing page after page of dot-matrix print-outs and hand-written notes on Elena that quickly becomes violent and pornographic imagery that teases about some sinister thing that’s operating behind the scenes. But the mystique that the film builds around Arboria and its inner workings are never resolved, in fact after a trip to meet Mr. Arboria himself, the film kinda wants to forget about itself. By the third act, it ditches everything its built up and falls apart entirely. Nyle dons a massive leather suit thing, becomes Marilyn Manson, and starts knifing people. I’m spoiling everything by saying that his demise equates to ‘he fell down, went boom’, at which point Elena giggles. This movie was written by a person becoming progressively younger. The last few turns of this movie are seriously far more fucked up than anything first-time director Panos Cosmatos has intentionally presented to you beforehand. You can literally walk out of the theater at the same time Elena walks out of the Arboria dome and get a few more points of enjoyment out of the film.
Aesthetically, the film follows the same track. The cinematography is fantastic early on, relying on vintage gels and filters and following up with every image tweak in the book. Others have summarized that this is a film school wet dream, and it is. But when we approach the film’s treacherous third act, we ditch all of that vintage goodwill for a modern, clean look. All of it, it’s gone. Again, it’s like an entirely different movie. What isn’t fucked up is the synth-y soundtrack by Jeremy Schmidt, also known as Sinoia Caves, that pounds the organ for intensity then chirps and beeps appropriately. It’s probably the star of the film.
Beyond the Black Rainbow is an incredible misfire. For all its build-up, there’s so little payout. The script writes checks that it obviously has no intentions to cash. I’m all for some mystique and unanswered questions, but provide something to be intrigued about first. Then there’s the treacherous last third that ruins everything. Everything. If you’re as curious about the film as I was, no review will stop you, but I implore you: just turn it off when it gets too scary.