In its opening minutes Beyond the Black Rainbow prepares its audience for its slow motion, abstract tone with phrases like “a state of mind”, “a way of being”, “a practical application of an abstract ideal”, and “the dawning of a new era in the human race and the human soul.” Beyond the Black Rainbow is not a straightforward cinematic experience, but instead works more like ambient music or a poem. In an age where the lines dividing cinema & television are becoming increasingly blurred, there’s an exponential value in movies that work this way. Recent mind-benders like Beyond the Black Rainbow, It Follows, Upstream Color, Under the Skin, and The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears are much-needed reminders that there are still things cinema can do that television can’t, no matter how much HBO wants you to believe otherwise.
That’s not to say that Beyond the Black Rainbow is an entirely new, unfamiliar experience. Its 1983 setting intentionally recalls vintage psychedelic sci-fi titles like Zardoz & Phase IV that turned a hangover from optimistic hippie mysticism into something much more sinister. Instead of apathetic dystopias & mutated killer ants, however, it mines its horrors from new age psychiatry, or what it calls “therapeutic technologies”. Although it’s set thirty years in the past, Beyond the Black Rainbow occupies a decidedly futuristic hellscape made up of telekinesis, television static, clouds of smoke, melting walls, and intense hues of red & blue. It packs the same unnerving punch of a traditional horror movie experience, but that effect is distilled in a futuristic void. This becomes increasingly apparent as the movie’s killer, an . . . unorthodox psychiatrist named Dr. Nile, behaves more & more like a traditional horror movie villain until he reaches full Jason Voorhees status late in the film.
The slow, methodical pace of Beyond the Black Rainbow is not going to win over everyone in the audience, but for those who aren’t in a particular rush for the plot to be pushed along are sure to be wowed by its plethora of mind-bending, often horrifying images. It is a decidedly cinematic experience, one that depends greatly on the strengths of its potent sounds & images instead of more traditional markers like plot & dialogue that carry less hallucinatory films. It’s impossible to imagine Beyond the Black Rainbow working in the television format and there’s an increasingly valuable virtue in that aspect of its design. Go into the film with an open mind & diligent patience and you may find the experience to be therapeutic, especially in a time where some people claim that television has surpassed cinema as a superior visual art form.