Beyond the Black Rainbow

Film, 2010

So there are a few hurdles the audience has to clear in order to enjoy this movie, but you couldn’t fault anyone for not being willing to clear them. The most predominant issue is that Beyond the Black Rainbow is all style, no substance. There’s no shortage of stunning photography on display here, and the filmmakers have absolutely nailed their chosen aesthetic and vague storytelling technique, but there’s no significant intellectual component to this that I was able to detect.

But if the style is gripping enough, a lack of content can sometimes be compensated for, at least somewhat. To that end, Beyond the Black Rainbow was, for me, mostly passable. The photography is stunning, with no shortage of tricks utilized and no subtlety left on the table. The compositions are striking, the color is bold, and the soundscape is like a rich painting. All of these things serve an aesthetic meant to resemble late 70’s/ early 80’s genre work, especially Kubrick’s.

But this type of extravagance is most effective when bolstering your investment in story, and I was left pretty cold here in that regard. I had trouble finding anything to invest myself in. The lead character is a distant mystery full of repressed fury who I was unable to identify with. The story surrounding him, revolving around a conceptually generic, menacing science institute, left little to wonder about. It’s seemingly sole subject, a young girl, might have been a good place to let the audience find their footing, but she has relatively little screen time. Only once she makes her escape did I start to become invested in the story, but it was too little too late.

Mostly, you are in awe of the filmmaking, but only in a way you can look at and respect, not in a way that is emotionally effective. There are a few powerful scenes, but they mostly work on a purely sensory level, triggering our instincts to tell us to be scared or disturbed. Only once does the movie manage to link the two, when the test subject learns the identity of the facility’s macabre guardian, and a connection is made. Other than that, this movie is for photography and 80’s genre film fetishists only, but they are bound to appreciate it.

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