Beyond the Black Rainbow looks like it was lit by lava lamps, scored on Moog synthesizers, written between bong hits and acted underwater. None of this is meant as praise. Writer-director Panos Cosmatos’ exasperating slog of a thriller focuses on a mad doctor (Michael Rogers) playing trippy mind games on his captive patient (Eva Allan). She appears to have some type of psychic power the scientist wants to channel. He seems to be a member of a cult led by a creepy old dude (Scott Hylands) who once might have starred in corporate training videos. The story is set in 1983. As hard as I tried to discern one, the film has absolutely no point to make or ideas to convey.
Instead, Cosmatos (son of the late George P. Cosmatos, who directed Tombstone and Cobra) goes for a weirdo, groovy, far-out vibe. Every shot is awash with suffused colors and tints. Pornographic drawings are interspersed with an endless succession of extreme close-ups — cassette tapes, eyeballs, hypodermic needles. The sets, which are retro yet futuristic, have been designed by someone who has closely studied THX-1138 and 2001: A Space Odyssey and came away thinking the meaning of those movies rested in their furniture and props.
The only thing Beyond the Black Rainbow does well is muster an aura of portentous, gloomy dread. You’d forgive the movie its outrageous indulgences and draggy pace if the story led somewhere. But instead, you get dime-store observations on cult mentality and a strange institution called Arboria, a petri dish of a medical facility where everyone does drugs and behaves like a lunatic.
There are magical crystals, bizarre feats of telekinesis and loads of “dream logic” — i.e. what David Lynch imitators use to describe their own failed attempts at incomprehensible narratives. Beyond the Black Rainbow is fun to stare at for awhile, like a display of flashing lights and sounds, but the film’s intentional lethargy is enervating instead of hypnotic, and the acting is bad enough to make you long for the histrionics of The Human Centipede. There’s nothing worse than a movie built from the ground up becoming a cult hit: That’s a designation bestowed by audiences, not something you can set out to accomplish from inception.
Cast: Eva Allan, Michael Rogers, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry.
Writer-director: Panos Cosmatos.
Producers: Oliver Linsley, Christya Nordstokke.
A Magnet Pictures release. Running time: 110 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, sexual situations, adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema.