This review is dedicated to Father Chris J., whose dogged persistence in wanting me to review this movie has been incredible - and entirely justified, as I have finally learned.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is the sort of film that makes one badly want to start listing out all its apparent influences and the other movies it's copying from. Not as a way of proving that writer-director Panos Cosmatos's solitary feature to date is derivative, but the exact opposite - as a way of finding some way to get one's hands fully around the unrelentingly strange and inexplicable thing, making some first effort to crack open the Oh my God, what was this?-ness of it. You know, be able to happily declare that this bit here is reminiscent of Michael Mann's The Keep (a conscious influence Cosmatos acknowledges), that bit there of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (which he does not). Unluckily, one of the most clear-cut influences, or at least one of the best comparisons, is the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, which is less a clarification of what, exactly, the film is going on about, and more a good way to generally indicate the specific flavor of dazzling inscrutability it favors.

Duly recapping the plot isn't much good either, since it suggests a level of concrete stability that's not really at play, but let's go for it anyway: as we see in an opening film reel, Dr. Mercurio Arboria (Scott Hylands) founded an institute in the 1960s which he named after himself, dedicated to bridging the caps between psychology and spirituality. By 1983, Arboria is now run by Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), a tetchy and dark figure in all the ways that Dr. Arboria was idealistic and warm. Nyle's chief interest is a young woman named Elena (Eva Allan), whom he keeps in a foggy state in near-isolation in a softly-lit white room. Here, he interrogates her on a routine basis, not for an apparent interest in learning anything beyond how to push her buttons, and possibly how to trigger and exploit her psychic capabilities.

That being said, the appeal of Beyond the Black Rainbow lives entirely within the ways that its scenario is reflected and explored through its visuals and Jeremy Schmidt's droning music, and not really how that scenario develops as a narrative (which is for the record, largely trite when it's not befuddling). Like Jodorowsky, or Andrei Tarkovsky in his explicit genre films, Cosmatos is playing a game here of making emotional states and philosophical concepts concrete by means of visuals. Insofar as it is a film about the mental condition of being drugged into a state of confusion and inability to express oneself - and having slept on it, I think that's the best I've got - it depicts that through a series of heavily stylised and impenetrable shots that use color and focus to convey abstract feeling. And thus, like Jodorowsky, the film sits on a line between the categories of "narrative" and "experimental" film that's hard to parse. It's not always totally successful in splitting the difference - its late lunge towards psycho killer horror is odd, to say the least - but invariably fascinating and stunningly visual. I do not say "beautiful", since part of the film's conceit is to lather everything in a grainy, broken-down look that suggests a piece of '70s psychedelia that unnervingly accurately predicted the fashion of the 1980s, and hasn't been seen since the solitary, ratty print was passed around in underground film circles.

But oh, how very striking it is in every way. The film uses enormous solid swatches of colored lighting, reds and blues mostly, which create intense and discomfiting feelings of artifice and wrongness, especially when combined with the massively interesting faces of Rogers and Allan - the former, in particular, has a wan appearance that suggests Christian Bale playing a dessicated tortoise, and it's a very appropriate fit for his inhuman excitement about turning his dull-eyed prisoner into a lab experiment. At other times, the film blasts out white and the palest of blues, which in combination with cinematographer Norm Li's fearlessly soft, shallow focus, offers the sense that the film is attempting to dissolve itself. The bold colors tend to center on Nyle, the whites on Elena, giving the whole film something of a codebook for reading itself: the one figure is otherworldly, Expressionistic terror, the other is diffuse and barely able to cling to a sense of distinct self. The contrast between these visual modes drives what I think to be the film's theme, though I concede that I'm guessing a little bit: attempting to define and explore the limitless potential and indestructibility of the human psyche by means of confining and destroying it leads only to cruelty and madness for all involved.

Not everything that Beyond the Black Rainbow does well is limited to camerawork and lighting: it has some wonderfully peculiar mise en scène, on top of it, a clear nod to the geometry of '70s sci-fi in things like the triangular prism Nyle uses to control Elena's mind. And there's a little bit of body horror in things like the reveal of certain characters' true appearances - one scene of a body disassembling itself predicting the three-years-younger Under the Skin so closely that I'm convinced that there has to be some degree of influence there (in fact, Under the Skin echoes Beyond the Black Rainbow more than a couple of times, and it's difficult for me to imagine a fan of the more popular 2013 film not responding to this one in somewhat similar terms) - or just plain normal horror in some of the dreamiest slasher-style killings I've seen in a 21st Century movie. And then there are things I can't even define, like the flashback to 1966 and a psychic breakdown - in all senses of "psychic" - that takes the form of an explosive short film of pure horror imagery cut together with balletic editing and camera, something like a tour of Hell's art gallery.

I'm tremendously excited by everything happening in this film, which is, as such things go, a success; though it's honestly hard for me to imagine how something so deliberately abstruse and driven by making short-term emotional impact over and over again for almost two hours could be a "failure" on its own terms, short of being boring. And that is certainly not the case. Still, it could not be any less idiosyncratic and willfully off-putting, and nothing this visually conceptual would ever manage to be generally well-liked outside of a tiny population of self-selecting viewers. It's anchored too deeply in genre to feel like a pure art film, but absolutely not enough of a conventional narrative to work as a genre film; it is a film for people who might call Stalker their favorite movie of all time if only it were more opaque. So, you know, a little audience, but a passionate one.

And of course, it's from Canada. Goddammit, Canada, always making the most fascinating and complicated horror and thriller movies all the time.