Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Short Review: 'Beyond the Black Rainbow' (2010)

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The culmination of what is generated through mood and atmosphere and its effect upon the way in which one interprets information is a process few artistic mediums are capable of instilling. When it comes to cinema the often profound impression put forward by a tangible ambiance has the ability to completely immerse an audience within an entirely alien world and thus, evoke feelings and emotions perhaps left dormant and undiscovered. When this does occur filmgoers are arguably pleasantly reminded of the power of the medium, reassured that the latest blockbuster offering at the multiplex most certainly is not the only example of what is available to the public at large.

Playing into this wonderful coordination of the senses is Beyond the Black Rainbow, the sterling debut from first timer Peter Cosmatos (son of veteran action director George P Cosmatos). Clearly influenced by cinematic fever dreams such as Altered States, Blue Sunshine, Enter the Void and others, Cosmatos takes the more psychedelic manifestations of visual and auditory storytelling and fuses them with aspects of horror cinema to create a truly superlative display of entrancingly strange and breath-taking imagery, resulting in a viewing experience that firmly establishes him as a talent to watch.

At its core the film is a period science fiction story, albeit an intentionally ambiguous one. Opening in 1983, a beautiful teenaged girl Elena (Eva Allen) is imprisoned within a medical research facility known as the Arboria Institute; a highly experimental organization focused upon the search for human contentment and serenity. Constantly under surveillance by the smug Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers), Elena manages to escape her detainment, sending Nyle off on a hunt for her recapture. Suggestions as to Elena’s significance to the institute are vaguely alluded to but never made explicit.

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From frame one it becomes clear that Cosmatos has an impeccable understanding of the language of film and its relationship to the unconscious. Clearly in symbiosis with cinematographer Norm Li, his placement of the camera and ability to capture the most distinct of images one after another recalls the surrealist works of Buñuel, Lynch and Anger whilst also being divergent from them and true to the specific voice of the film. Aesthetically, Rainbow recreates the cold detachedness of late 1970s science fiction cinema fused with the foreboding dread of a great horror film, all filtered through the dark guise of a dream-fuelled obsession that never once fails to engross. Furthermore, the ethereal score by Jeremy Schmidt that puts analogue synthesizers to the best use since early John Carpenter is absolutely hypnotic and evocative of the time. Style is precisely substance with regard to this film.

Much of the mind-boggling attention to detail presented in Rainbow is evidenced not only through deliberately retro photographic processes (the film was shot with a vintage Panavision camera on ultra high grain 2/3 35mm stock) but also by way of exceptional set and costume design, evoking the often primary colour-infused palette of the period. However, the visual architecture is in no way designed to reflect an accurate repositioning of times past but rather more of a heightened interpretation of what was once fashionable. Much of the Arboria Institute is structured like a maze of sprawling tunnels lit by pulsating lights that seem to originate from some unseen place beyond, resulting in an antiseptic nightmare existing almost as if floating in outer space. Characters, as minimal as they are, seem to become their environments, exhibiting just as much melancholic despair as the atmosphere that surrounds them.

And ultimately this is what Beyond the Black Rainbow is concerned with and excels at the most: atmosphere. All other aspects such as narrative complexity and character backstory are secondary to creating a singularly entrancing experience and one that teleports the viewer through time, allowing for an interpretive and intuitive response. Sure, there are certain Freudian connections to be made with regard to some of the suggestive imagery used and even nods to religious implications, however the intentions of the film appear less fixated upon the subtextual and more toward casting a spell upon those willing to surrender to its wealth of mysteries. 

Beyond the Black Rainbow is available now through Madman Entertainment

Dir: Peter Cosmatos
Writer: Peter Cosmatos
Cast: Eva Allen, Michael Rogers, Scott Hylands, Rondel Reynoldson
Country: Canada
Run Time: 110mins
Rating: MA15+

1 comment:

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