The genre of head movies – those films that seem destined to be screened at midnight with an audience of people who may or may not be entirely sober – has had fewer and fewer entries in our blockbuster film culture. Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow is one of the more recent entries, and it’s definitely got something.

The Players:

  • Writer/Director: Panos Cosmatos
  • Cast: Eva Allan, Michael Rogers, Scott Hylands
  • Cinematography: Norm Li

The Plot

In 1983, Dr. Barry Nyle (Rogers), is an evil scientist who works at the Arboria Institute, where he keeps a girl (Allan) captive for research purposes. She seems to have powers that are connected to a  diamond light, she doesn’t talk, and his research mostly involves testing her powers from a distance. She eventually escapes, but to where?

The Good:

  • Tone: What director Cosmatos is after here is the sort of widescreen paranoia that comes from the odd angles and lighting choices that leave an audience unsettled. From frame one, violence is preordained, and people are going to be hurt. But with a film like this, it’s about building the dread of inevitable, and the film does a good job of keeping a viewer hooked as it slowly builds the tension.
  • Obtuse: It’s always a risky proposition to offer an audience little explanation of what’s going on, and it’s likely that few people would describe the events exactly the same way. But the film never falters in this regard (though the film tips its hands a little when the Doctor meets some 80′s rockers while searching for the girl), and though it’s obviously indebted to people like David Lynch and David Cronenberg, it manages to be enough of its own thing.
  • Canadian: There are two types of Canada in cinema. One is the generic cities that dominate cheap action movies and TV shows, where things look familiar but it’s obviously not America. Then there’s David Cronenberg’s Canada, the one that sees the horror and beauty of it’s manufactured worlds in their cold dry landscapes. And though this film also owes a debt to filmmakers like Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento – it’s definitely got some Gialo characteristics – he gets the tones and look from that clinical ugliness.
  • Period: The film is set in 1983, and it gives the filmmaker a chance to keep things in that weird state of retro-futurism. Obviously the film is deeply indebted to a number of filmmakers (as evinced above), but it never fully crosses over into a state of winking.

The Bad:

  • Head Movie: This is the sort of film that’s best seen in a communal setting, where the audience has the amplified reaction of not being at home, and the strangeness is enveloping. It’s a tone piece, and as such there’s not as much to be gained from watching it at home, nor is there a lot there. The film is simply visceral, and that’s to be celebrate, it’s about a look and a feel. And if this weren’t a first film, it might be just wanking.


Beautifully shot and well put together, this is the sort of first film that shows a lot of promise, but also one that doesn’t necessarily deliver much more than tone. If you can, if you have interest, see it on the biggest screen possible at the maximum volume.

Rating: 7.5/10

Beyond the Black Rainbow opens today in Los Angeles, and has been playing in New York for a while. It will be playing many of the major cities throughout the summer, see a full list here.