Interestingly enough, I had just finished reading Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan right before watching Beyond the Black Rainbow, and I felt like Machen’s book gave me some insight into the film–both were about using science to test the boundaries of one’s sanity and dealing with the consequences. I also found some similarities between Pontypool and The Signal since both involved regular people losing their shit because of an overabundance of information and communication.
I have a hard time categorizing this as a movie. See, movies tend to follow a linear storyline, develop characters—that kind of thing. Beyond the Black Rainbow is more of a collection of surreal scenes that could possibly be construed as a story, but could just as easily be individual studies of control and escape.
As far as I could tell, the plot of the film revolved around Elena (Eva Allan), a young girl with psychic powers who was being held in a sterile and fluorescent lab installation, and Barry (Michael Rogers) is her creepily involved psychologist/caseworker. Eventually, Eva manages to escape, which sets Barry into a cold and murderous episode that involves pulling off his wig and popping out his contact lenses to reveal a Nosferatu-esque creeper.
I think it’s important to approach this from the right direction. It’s not something you throw on for your friends, but rather an attempt to present a visually artistic statement in the package of a horror movie.
Best Moment: I don’t know about best, but there was one genuinely terrifying moment. First, as our heroine is escaping, she stumbles into another cell. Within this cell, we see a freakishly mutated dude wrapped in a straitjacket lying on a cot. As soon as he sees Elena, he convulses and flops down on the ground, wriggling toward her like an oversized maggot. She narrowly escapes by putting a glass door between them. The mutant responds by smearing his face and tongue all over the transparent screen. It was gross.
It’s a rare and beautiful thing to have a horror movie that relies on the implication of malice and dread instead of actually showing malice and dread. This is where Pontypool succeeds—until the last half of the movie, that is.
The implication of which I speak comes right at the very beginning of the film as we see shock jock Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) on his way to work in a driving snowstorm. An incoherent woman approaches his car as he is stopped at a red light. She wanders off, but the implication of something messed up is put into the foreground. As Mazzy’s morning show gets underway, he gets strange updates about violent outbreaks and riots via his field reporter.
The first half of the film is brilliant. Mazzy, his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle), and their assistant Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly) are the only characters involved, and watching them try to piece together what’s happening from within their radio station evokes this awesome feeling of uncertainty and mistrust.
It’s when Dr. Mendez (Hrant Alianak) arrives that the film starts to fall apart. Not to disparage Alianak’s great performance, but his arrival signaled the inevitable explanation of what was happening, which killed the film’s paranoid atmosphere. It turns out, certain words in the English language have become infected with a virus that turns people into gibbering lunatics. Though it’s an interesting idea, it kind of falls apart towards the end—right around the time we start seeing the crazy townsfolk descend upon the radio station. I would have liked this film better if it stuck with an implied scary situation rather than showing us what was happening. That way, the audience is left to decide whether it’s really happening or not.
Best Moment: After Laurel-Ann gets infected, our heroes hide from her in a sound-proof recording room. She subjects herself to all kinds of self-abuse—including chewing off her bottom lip—until she finally vomits up a deluge of blood and chunks that splatters across the sound-proof glass. Dr. Mendez, a scientist before all else, enthusiastically theorizes that her blood vomiting is a result of not successfully transmitting the disease. His academic enthusiasm in the face of something truly terrible is both hilarious and worthy of admiration.
Next up, we’re going old school with the 1932 Mummy with Boris Karloff and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a tale of teeth-devouring devil-pixies. Can’t wait!