Top critical review
All the Elements of a Good Movie are There--Except a Narrative Focus
on June 25, 2017
I tried to like Beyond the Black Rainbow, I really did, and I tried to pay attention, I really did, but without a clear narrative, I started to lose focus a little over an hour through and think, "Is it over yet?"
I always struggle with films like this. It's a brave choice to make a film without a clear narrative, and sometimes it works--based on the strength of the other elements, including characters/acting, effects/visuals/cinematography, and music. It seems to me that it's usually a 50/50 split as to the effectiveness of this sort of film.
It's difficult to latch onto or empathize with any of these characters. Elena is the most sympathetic character by far, but even she doesn't really get interesting until the latter third of the film. Dr. Nyle is creepy, but that's pretty much as deep as his character development ever gets, with the examinations of his personal backstory and personal abnormalities seemingly there only to add more layers of creepiness atop the rest. That said, the acting is excellent, with Michael Rogers' Barry Nyle being the standout. Eva Allen as Elena isn't, unfortunately, given much to do until the last half hour or so, but what we see from her is compelling. Other characters are practically furniture in terms of their screen time and impact on the plot, though Scott Hylands' Mercutio Arboria immediately hooked me within the opening minutes.
Let's get this second part out of the way quickly: The film is gorgeous. There's a reason other reviewers have likened this to 2001: A Space Odyssey--like Stanley Kubrick, Panos Cosmatos has a clear understanding of how to make compelling, surreal, beautiful visuals. Kubrick's surreality is more specific in terms of its purpose, though, than that of Cosmatos, which, much like the layers of creepiness that are a thin attempt at fleshing out Nyle, seem like a thin attempt to make the film more "cerebral." Again, sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. The visuals and effects here are cool and the cinematography is impressive, but it doesn't tell any clearer a story than the narrative.
As for the music, well...this is a rocking soundtrack. Seriously, it's the only thing that kept me watching the last half hour instead of turning it off. Props to Jeremy Schmidt for the John Carpenter-Tangerine Dream-György Ligeti-soaked score, which I will be purchasing and adding to my collection.
It's a shame, then, that despite the other elements all being so impressive, that the film is not any more cohesive. This falls squarely on the shoulders of its poor narrative focus. It would have been better as a short film, perhaps under an hour, to create a more streamlined product. I have no problem with "deep" movies, but there comes a point when "deep" becomes "inscrutable", when the plot and the point are buried so "deep" that it's almost impossible to understand.
It's flawed, but worth at least a partial watch, and I'll definitely be looking forward to Panos Cosmatos' upcoming works.
Overall, it's a three out of five. Rent the movie. Buy the score.