Directed and written by: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry, Rosemary Nyle, Rondel Reynoldson
People often try to make the distinction between a cult and a religion. It would be easy to say that a religion is just a giant cult, but then, using that logic, isn’t a cult just a tiny religion? Well, I think I just figured it out. A religion is only creepy some of the time (insert tasteless joke about pedophile priests), where as a cult is creepy ALL of the time. Remember that Heaven’s Gate cult that committed mass suicide so they could all get on a spaceship to heaven, with $5.75 in their pockets to cover the travel costs? That’s a special brand of crazy. I mean, I couldn’t even get a cab ride for six bucks if you include the tip. If I met one of those guys at a party and got forced into a conversation, I’d quickly develop an exit strategy, maybe head to the bathroom or pretend to take an emergency call about my cousin being in the hospital after getting run over by a Vespa. However, it might not be too bad to get locked into a conversation with a devout Catholic who tells me how much he likes to go fishing on the weekend. I’d just take the boredom hit right between the eyes and move on with my night, no worse for the wear.
I guess the reason why cults tend to be smaller than religions is that the creepiness factor seems directly tied to how insulated they are and how much power the lead nutbar has. The actual doctrine seems to be irrelevant. There could be a small group called “The New Sphericals” where bald dudes in robes talk about love and enlightenment, but if a powerful leader insulates the group from the outside world, the whole thing will descend into a rotting spiritual mess.
Such is the case with the cult compound (Arboria) at the center of Beyond the Black Rainbow. Elena (Eva Allan), a young woman with the power of telepathy and other brain wave shenanigans, is being held captive in a cult compound that looks like a cross between a spaceship and a futuristic hospital from hell (I mean “from hell” in a Richard Lewis sense and not a literal sense). A slimy nutball doctor and cultist named Barry (Michael Rogers) is experimenting on her, as she is apparently the stepping stone to some enlightenment thingamajig. Will Barry reach enlightenment? Will Elena escape? Will crazy shit happen? SPOILER ALERT: yes to that last question.
Sure, there are other scenes, like the doctor talking to his wife or talking to some old dude (who might be the head honcho of the cult, but he is clearly on his last legs). There’s even a flashback scene that shows Barry being baptized into the cult, ending with him crawling out of what looks to be a tar pit. I don’t know about you, but I refuse to belong to a club that would only have me for a member if I agree to submerge myself in a pit of tar. I visited the LaBrea Tar Pits once and was nervous the entire time that I was going to trip and fall in. That’s all the tar related excitement I need for one lifetime.
If that sounds like a slim plot for a feature, I guess it is, but Beyond the Black Rainbow is more of an aural and visual meditation on that insulated culty creepiness I referenced earlier (I know the phrase “aural and visual meditation” sounds like an exercise from a very pretentious cult, but I honestly couldn’t think of a better description). The rad music is mostly of the synth drone variety, with some minimalist synth thrown in for good measure (yes I will make that distinction). The visuals seems influenced by the aesthetic of 70’s and 80’s sci-fi movies (like THX-1138, for example). This is to be distinguished from a movie that merely rips off scenes or plot elements from older science fiction films. Rather, certain visual elements (whether creepy bald heads, leather space suits, spaceship interiors, a combination fog machine and brain control unit disguised as a giant prism, or lots and lots of fluorescent lights) are borrowed and fetishized to create something new. It sort of reminds me of the movie Amer, which used the aesthetic of giallo movies to do something else, rather than being simply a modern version of a giallo.
So, the results resemble a science fiction film without really being sci-fi in the conventional sense of being about ideas related to technology, although maybe I was just confused (in fairness, I am often confused). I suggest just rolling with it, as Steve Winwood would say. If you go in fishing for plot or logic, you’ll probably just end up with an old boot, or a pair of dentures, or god forbid the corpse of some poor bastard that lapsed on his teamster dues. Myself, I don’t mind a creepy sci-fi synth drone music video stretched out to feature length and dipped in bad acid. As a man who keeps his temple clean (beer and booze and Monster Energy Drinks do not count of course), I don’t actually know what it’s like to smoke the good acid, let alone bad acid, but sometimes I gotta rely on speculation and guesswork when adjectives fail me.
P.S. The movie opens in Los Angeles tomorrow at the Cinefamily. If you're interested in checking it out, this is one you'll probably want to see on the big screen. Just remember to rip a bong load in the parking lot beforehand*.
*I'm just kidding. I recommend staying away from that stuff. Marijuana is a gateway drug that leads to other drugs that are much more expensive, and in this economy, that spells trouble.