When asked about his feature-length debut BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, Canadian filmmaker Panos Cosmatos summed it up perfectly, “It’s a nostalgic movie, but it’s a poisoned nostalgia.” Set in 1983, a girl named Elena (Eva Allan) is imprisoned in Arboria, a New Age retreat that turns out to be an institution of mind-control. She is an experimental subject for Dr. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), whose aim is to break down her sense of identity and re-make her in his own image.
Inspired by a childhood obsession with horror flicks and various pop culture oddities of the 70’s and early 80’s, Cosmatos creates a world of his own, as strange as it is familiar. Anyone who grew up in the 80’s, or has delved into the sci-fi fantasy movies of the Reagan era will see that Cosmatos hits the nostalgia note on a gut level. The wash of nostalgia is magnified by the throbbing, phasing arpeggiations and drones of retro-keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt of Sinoia Caves.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is what an impressionist painter might do, dabbling exclusively in colors of a particular vintage. Cosmatos’s vision is reminiscent of movies like “Dreamscape,” “Tron,” “Bladerunner,” and old-school sci-fi horror at large, especially Cronenberg’s “Scanners” and “Videodrome”; but it emerges as a thing of its own. That’s the real strength of this film; it is haunting and uncompromising. Even if you don’t like it, or enjoy it—and it’s hard to apply the word “enjoy” to such an unnerving film—you will probably have a hard time getting it out of your head.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is more of an immersive experience than entertainment in the conventional sense. It is abstract and open-ended, allowing Cosmatos to play with all kinds of metaphors. While it is not dialogue or action driven, there is a coherent narrative in which Cosmatos explores themes of duality and transformation—dark and regressive. Visually, there is a recurring theme of doubling—everything has two sides; and nothing is what it appears to be. Apropos of the Reagan/Thatcher era and the rise of the information age, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is a study of the nature of power. Telekinesis, hallucinogenics, and psychic warfare all feed into the mind-bending aesthetic while serving as mini messages, though what is being said is wide open to interpretation.