Movie review: Snoozer 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' is all ambience, no substance

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One of the most unexpected subplots on AMC's "Mad Men" this past season was Roger Sterling's experimentation with LSD. While under the influence, the usually cavalier ad man believed he'd come in contact with the ultimate source of knowledge, although he only managed to confuse the banal free association of his subconscious with something more profound.

Sitting through the interminable "Beyond the Black Rainbow," the directorial debut of Canadian filmmaker Panos Cosmatos, is like experiencing what one of Roger's acid trips might have been like. The film begins with a promising send-up of self-actualization movements such as EST or pyramid power before settling into a lugubrious routine it never emerges from.

'Beyond the Black Rainbow'

2 stars = Mediocre
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Michael Rogers and Eva Allan.
  • Rating: R for some bloody violence, disturbing images, a graphic sexual illustration, language and drug content.

"Beyond the Black Rainbow" is set in 1983 in some sort of antiseptic scientific testing facility called the Arborin. The lab is maintained by perpetually whispering mad scientist Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers).

The object of Nyle's fascination is Elena (Eva Allan), a mute psychic who also appears to have limited powers of telekinesis. Elena spends much of the film in a catatonic state, a metaphor for the audience's yawning indifference.

Nyle and Eva play a cat-and-mouse game that is supposed to be interesting but is far from it. Along the way, Nyle removes his wig, injects needles into Eva's neck and between an old man's toes, puts on a weird rubber suit, kills two stoners drinking beer around a fire and murders a woman who may or may not be a close relative.

In attempting to escape from Arborin, Eva causes one of her minders to hemorrhage and collapse like a bloody bag of meat. Because everyone appears to be in a somnambulant state anyway, nothing really matters. There is zero tension, even when someone drops dead. Consequently, "Beyond the Black Rainbow" contains many of the most boring scenes of mayhem ever recorded, which may be the point. There are many disconnected scenes that add to the fragmentary sense of the narrative without advancing the story one iota. Some of the images will even stick with you for a few days.

The best thing about "Black Rainbow" is the way it perfectly mimics the washed out look of 1970s sci-fi movies. Mr. Cosmatos does a great job making us feel that we've stumbled upon a really bad film that has re-emerged after being lost for decades. The score by Jeremy Schmidt recording under the name Sinoia Caves is all wobbly, moody synth-music that never stops droning.

I've sat through many exercises in cinematic solipsism in my life, but rarely have I seen a film as visually interesting but lacking in narrative coherence as "Beyond the Black Rainbow."

At an hour and 45 minutes, this is not a movie you'd take someone to see on a first date unless you're trying to determine in advance if he or she is a snorer. This is not a riveting cinematic experience. The good news is that after nodding off, your own dreams will provide a more interesting movie until you're once again snug in your own bed.

Opens today at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont.


Tony Norman: or 412-263-1631. First Published June 15, 2012 12:00 AM


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