Film: Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow is a 2010 Science Fiction Psychological Thriller film, often crossing into Surreal Horror. It is the debut film by Canadian writer and director Panos Cosmatos. Set in 1983, the film follows a girl named Elena, a telepath studied and locked inside a research compound, and the unstable therapist that supervises her. Things start getting astoundingly weirder very quickly. The film is shot in the deliberately slow, sterile, and excessively polished style of 70s cold sci-fi movies, such as THX 1138 and A Clockwork Orange. It also features a mostly Brown Note / Drone of Dread score.


This film provides examples of:

  • Ascetic Aesthetic:The Arboria Institute.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Elena uses one to travel between rooms.
  • Battleaxe Nurse: Margo.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: Implied at the beginning. Its results are not so much.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Barry Nyle
  • Bald of Evil / Black Eyes of Evil: Dr. Nyle, once he removes his wig and contacts and goes completely Ax-Crazy.
  • Brown Note: A sinister note plays on the synthesizer during several scenes, most notably when the nurse discovers a notebook that hints at implied Rape as Drama.
  • Came Back Wrong: Dr. Nyle's dip in the primordial ooze had this affect on him whereas...
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Dr. Nyle claims to have seen "the eye of God" and "the Black Rainbow" during his transformation
  • Creepy Child: What the Sentionaut looks like under its helmet.
  • Drone of Dread: Any part of the score that isn't the Brown Note.
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Benign pharmacology" proves to be anything but benign. While the film is too subtle and understated to be considered a Reactionary Fantasy about drugs, the anti-drug Aesop fits nicely with the movie's Reagan-era aesthetic.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Elena.
  • Escape from the Crazy Place
  • Establishing Shot: Relentlessly subverted. An establishing shot of a room is likely to be done through macro photography of the carpet.
  • Evil Costume Switch: Barry goes from his Carl Sagan getup, contacts and toupee into an oil black jacket... granted, he was already shown/implied to be pretty sinister before, but at this point he becomes considerably less restrained about it.
  • Eye Scream: A few. A notable one includes Dr. Nyle removing his contacts with needle nose pliers.
  • Fade to Black: Whenever there's a scene change, the movie fades to red instead.
  • Genre Throwback: To "cold sci-fi" of the 1970s.
  • Homage: In terms of style as well as subject matter, to science fiction films of the early 1980s.
  • Left Hanging: The main conflict is resolved before the end, but the film ends very abruptly and many things remain unexplained.
  • Mad Scientist: Or mad pseudo-scientist, Barry.
  • Mind Rape: The flashback sequence to 1966.
  • Mind Screw: Endlessly. It reaches the point that a perfectly ordinary Establishing Shot of a perfectly ordinary staff break room will unwind your mind.
  • Mushroom Samba: The flashback sequence (if not the whole movie.)
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: The soundtrack uses an organ-type synthesizer sound for some of the villain scenes.
  • Peace & Love, Incorporated: If you believe their promotional material, Arboria is a holistic psychological research center dedicated to helping people achieve happiness and realize their full potential.
  • Psychic Nosebleed
  • Psychic Powers
  • Psycho Psychologist: Barry.
  • Rape as Drama: Implied as part of the backstory (though it's never really clear) when the Battleaxe Nurse finds a notebook featuring illustrations of male and female sexual organs. Cue Brown Note.
  • Retraux
  • '70s Hair: Barry's toupee. Notably, as the style of the toupee was no longer popular in North America at the time the movie is set, this is a subtle but telling symbol that Barry, and the Arboria Institute in general, are detached enough from outside reality as to be at least a few years behind.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Barry's pills are from "Benway's Pharmacy," an appropriate shout-out to William S. Burroughs.
    • The way he kills his wife is also reminiscent of Tyrell's death in Blade Runner.
    • The flashback to 1966 is shot in high-contrast black and white in homage to E. Elias Merhige's experimental horror film Begotten.
    • The Sentionaut is wearing gear reminiscent of the spacesuits from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
    • The Sentionaut opening its helmet is similar to the unmasking of the humanoid in The Black Hole.
    • "No matter where you go, there you are" is quoted in the end credits.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: much like the Stanley Kubrick films Beyond the Black Rainbow visually references, the film is based on an aesthetic contrast between the two. Notably the "shiny" parts are used for the main character's imprisonment while the "gritty" last half hour of the movie provides hope for escape.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Altered States, among others.
  • Stargate City: Notable Vancouver locations seen in this movie include the George Massey Tunnel and Bloedel Conservatory.
  • Start of Darkness: It's never quite clear when Barry's was. Was it when he took drugs in the 1960s or was it after Elena's escape? Regardless, there is a point after which he snaps, changes his appearance, and murders practically everyone in the film except for Elena.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The film contains two out-of-place songs: "Angel Dust" by metal band Venom (during the scene with the camping metalheads) and "Anonymous" by synthpop band SSQ (during the end credits). Compared to the Drone of Dread that is the entire rest of the film, this can come off as jarring.
  • The Stinger: A close-up of a Sentionaut action figure lays on a carpet, as a half-backwards voice exclaims "Do you read me?" over Pac Man Fever noises.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: What Dr. Nyle saw when he tried to "bring home the motherlode."
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Perfecting humanity was the Arboria institute's initial goal. Too bad it led to Barry's pronounced psychotic break and quite a few seemingly otherworldly horrors.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Barry goes from a cold and calculating Psycho Psychologist to a bald, ranting, hallucinating, knife wielding psychopath.
  • "What Now?" Ending
  • White Void Room: The flashback to 1966 takes place entirely in one. See Shout-Out above.