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‘Black Rainbow’ review: Overlooked supernatural thriller is fun and engaging

Criminally overlooked.

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Black Rainbow is a different kind of supernatural thriller. The premise takes the audience in one direction. A father and daughter team (Jason Robards and Rosanna Arquette) travel the country. Martha Travis is a travelling medium who helps people get in touche with their deceased loved ones. Her father is her manager. They have done this for years and have helped a number of people.

The whole thing is also a scam.

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At one of their gatherings, Martha receives a message from a woman’s dead husband. It turns out the man is not only very much alive, the woman talked to him right before the coming to see Martha. Soon, Martha’s visions seem to become real and more deadly. A newspaper journalist named Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce) knows this cannot be true. He decides he is going to put an end to what Martha and Walter are doing.

Black Rainbow is filled with strong performances. Robards stands out. He gets the best lines as the alcoholic Walter. He is gruff and and does not seem to have a kind word to have for anyone or anything. Arquette is also great to watch as Martha. She is used in a variety of different ways by different forces. This all comes to a head in a scene towards the end. It is a tremendous moment that demonstrates development and brings the entire plot full circle.

While the premise and characters are incredibly engaging, the movie has a tendency to bring more to the table than is necessary. In particular is a subplot involving one of the deaths Martha has had a vision about. While it is different and brings a change of pace to Black Rainbow, it also feels out of place in the context of the entire movie.

Criminally overlooked.

What ultimately makes Black Rainbow work so well is its willingness to lean into the supernatural. The audience is shown what is going on behind the curtain very early on. When things do become a little more mysterious, director Mike Hodges makes sure the camerawork matches the mood. Colors jump off the screen and there is good use of some settings. The story makes sure to keep the audience watching through to the very end.

Movies become overlooked for a number of reasons. Marketing, being ahead of their time, and studios just not knowing what to do with them are all reasons some films fly under the radar. Black Rainbow is one of these movies. It was years before Miramax released it and the deliberate pacing is something that is seen in many of today’s horror movies. Things feel a little overstuffed at times, but it is definitely worth seeing.


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