It's 3 a.m. There's a hard day behind you, a hard day before you, and all you want to do is prolong the night's quiet, dark serenity for just a few hours more. But what movie should you stream at this unsavory hour? Something scary and strange, obviously! Beyond the Black Rainbow is both. *Fear not, horror fans: this post is spoiler-free.*
THIS WEEK'S 3AM HORROR STREAM: Beyond the Black Rainbow
If the term "cult film" could ever be properly applied to a movie experience, Beyond the Black Rainbow is it. Canadian director Panos Cosmatos' film has enraged or enthralled all who've encountered it since it first appeared at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. (IndieWire famously panned it while also rating it a B+, calling the film an "incoherent audiovisual extravaganza for its own sake." Spot on!) A strikingly visual and bravely nonsensical fever dream meant to ape the sci-fi thrillers of the early '80s, Beyond the Black Rainbow owes as much to the work of Stanley Kubrick as it does to the existence of mind-altering drugs. In other words, it is the best.
The story sounds straightforward: A girl with special powers (Eva Allan) has been subjected to a lifetime of mind-control experiments by a monstrous scientist (Michael Rogers) — and then something goes wrong. Why was he so interested in her abilities? Will she ever escape his terrible lair? Would that even be a good thing for the outside world? To give away any more than that would rob you of the sense of discovery that propels this film from a pretentious student film into something entirely memorable. It would also imply that Beyond the Black Rainbow is even concerned with telling a straightforward story, which, uh, it isn't.
Much of Beyond the Black Rainbow's appeal (or what makes it unwatchable, depending on your tolerance for avant-garde cinema) lies in its retro atmospherics: a droning synth score, campy costumes, long takes, and weird angles. Some sets glow so brightly and are filmed so obtusely that entire sequences resemble constantly mutating Rorschach blobs. Just being real: The whole thing feels very much like an acid trip.
But just when you've grown impatient or enraged by the film's outrageously slow pace or maddening visual choices, it takes a stylistic turn so shocking and satisfying you may just sit up and clap. It's one of those movies.
What makes Beyond the Black Rainbow particularly suitable for a 3AM viewing is the way it lulls you into a sort of hypnotic state before jolting you right back into wakefulness. Even fans of the film might describe certain sequences as punishing, but the same could be said for certain sequences in 2001. And the film is undeniably hilarious in certain sections while being truly nightmare-inducing in others; how often can an art film claim that distinction?
So if being up way, way past your bedtime makes you more open-minded toward truly off-kilter cinema, you can't really do better than the nightmare odyssey that is this underappreciated modern cult classic. Whether you end up loving it or hating it, rest assured you will likely never forget it.
Images courtesy Magnolia Pictures