I know that’s a bold pronouncement, but bear with me.
One of the worst trends in indie film, and has been for a while, is the attitude that you don’t have to make a good movie in the technical sense because post-modernism, or it’s not “real”, or whatever B.S. excuse the filmmaker trumps up to justify he’s made yet another movie about that woman he can’t get in the pants of, or that boyfriend of hers she’s still not quite over, or just how hard it is to be rich, white, and just out of college, boo hoo.
But probably the worst is the “homage” to bad movies. I’m not talking about enjoying a movie for all the wrong reasons. For example, “Birdemic” is an awful movie from stem to stern, but it’s so consistently awful and amateurish it becomes funny. James Nguyen was trying to make a good movie and missed the mark so utterly and completely, he managed to make a movie enormously entertaining for all the wrong reasons.
No, I’m talking about movies that have “grindhouse” in their plot description, a “70s” or “80s” font in their title, and a tattooed, pierced director talking about how alternative he is that he made a movie that sucks just as hard as the crap in a Times Square theater in 1980 as a “tribute”, never realizing that making a bad movie deliberately doesn’t make the movie good. No amount of “irony” is going to save a movie that was never going to be good in the first place, and making it deliberately suck just makes it worse.
And “Beyond the Black Rainbow” is the ne plus ultra of this attitude. It’s not just bad because it thinks being long, slow, and droning is artistic. It’s bad because it thinks doing all of that and pretending the movie was made in 1983 will make it awesome.
Panos Cosmatos, the director, is clearly a huge fan of David Cronenberg, but he doesn’t understand why Cronenberg stopped making student films and started making movies people actually watch voluntarily.
This is pretty much every scene in the movie: two people, usually the villain Dr. Nile and the teenage girl he’s psychologically abusing, have a conversation that consists of lengthy closeups of him being a sneering dick and her crying. Occasionally, Nile passive-aggressively whines to his wife. Also occasionally, we’ll get closeups of the Arboria Institute, where all of this takes place, and how aggressively “’80s” it all is.
The plot will not budge an inch. This is the first freaking hour.
When the movie finally does grudgingly provide us with a plot crumb, it actually becomes somewhat interesting, but Cosmatos keeps dragging it out: there’s a pointless slasher-film interlude with two metal guys smoking weed, for instance, that delays the final confrontation for no reason.
And all throughout is the droning, synthesized soundtrack, mixed with air conditioning ducts thundering, video screens keening, and laid over the dialogue to make it hard to hear…not that this will matter, since the dialogue doesn’t usually offer anything interesting.
This isn’t the cast’s fault; the script has handed them with flat, uninteresting characters. Michael Rogers in particular works his ass off to keep Dr. Nile from going straight into Lex Luthor territory.
The real sad thing is, if the movie had condensed the first hour or so down to about fifteen minutes, and dealt mostly with our heroine trying to escape the Arboria Institute, they would have had something. When things actually start happening in this movie, they do have a genuinely creepy, uncomfortable vibe. Something is very, very wrong at the Arboria Institute, in the few glimpses we get of what else Dr. Nile is up to. But this is about ten minutes of a two hour movie.
So why is this the worst movie of the summer? Sure, we’ve got movies practically guaranteed to suck coming from studios that spent $200 million on them. But nobody involved thought they were making art, or thought that slapping a mock VHS cover on their website would excuse making a bad movie. “Beyond the Black Rainbow” isn’t a movie, it’s a mean-spirited prank, the effort of a filmmaker to cover up a failure of both understanding of his genre and execution of his work by hiding behind nostalgia.
Don’t fall for it.
image courtesy Magnet Releasing