Beyond the Black Rainbow is a difficult movie to describe, and even more difficult to definitively recommend. It’s much more of a sensory experience than a coherent narrative, which will be a turn off to a good deal of the viewing public. However, anyone with a taste for the bizarre and the visually striking will find something to like – or even love about this film. It is, if nothing else, a memorable experience.

The story, such as it is, follows a young woman named Elena (Eva Allan), who is imprisoned in the Arboria Institute, a facility dedicated to exploring the higher realms of human consciousness. The staff at the Institute, including Elena’s overseer Dr. Nyle (Michael Rogers) believe she is the key to their goals, as she possesses some kind of psychic powers. Elena wants to escape, while Dr. Nyle thwarts her at every turn.

But that synopsis doesn’t do justice to the sheer oddness on display here. Nothing in the plot is explained aloud; it is left to the audience to determine what is going on. Indeed, the above description is merely one possible guess at the nature of the story. And that doesn’t even get into the pervasively strange setting, such as the fact that the film is set in an alternate, possibly dystopian version of the year 1983.

The year is the biggest hint to what director/writer Panos Cosmatos is getting at here. He’s taken a swath of artistic ideas and influences from what he grew up with and fused them together. Aesthetically, he calls back to the work of Stanley Kubrick, while thematically he riffs on David Lynch, among others. This isn’t empty imitation or pastiche, though. Cosmatos has made something that can stand on its own.

This is a film about expanding one’s mind, and its primary aim is to put the viewer in that heightened frame of view. The images are saturated with reds, whites, or blacks at different given moments, meant to overwhelm all other senses with their loudness. Cosmatos’ camera dwells alternatively on extended periods of silent stillness and brief sequences of rapid-fire images of terror. As an avant-garde horror film, Beyond the Black Rainbow often works spectacularly, throwing in constant turns that disorient and unnerve. The exceedingly sinister synthesizer score aids wonderfully in this.

If one gives his or herself over completely to feeling, then he or she will find nothing to object to here. However, allowing thought to creep in diminishes the movie. The long stretches of nothing happening eventually undercut the sense of dread, and some of the plot developments begin to feel meaningless. This especially happens towards the end, the only time where it feels that things are happening simply for the sake of things happening, and the movie seems to sputter to a stop rather than wind down to a real ending.

All at once a visual triumph, an interesting tonal experiment, and an ideological stumble, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a mostly engrossing trip. It won’t blow the mind, but it might perhaps bend it a little. Cosmatos hasn’t put together a work to equal that of the masters he imitates, but he certainly makes an interesting effort.