Rainbow Experiment movie review

Year: 2018
Director(s): Christina Kallas
Writer(s): Christina Kallas
Region of Origin: US
Rating: n/a
Color, 129 mins

Synopsis: Chronicles the aftermath of a high school tragedy. 

“The world you see is just a movie in your mind. Nobody understands it. Nobody listens.” This line, uttered early on in Christina Kallas’ The Rainbow Experiment, is a perfect encapsulation of her latest film. Here, Kallas has created a world in which each person is the star of their own story. One small decision leads to irreversible ripples, and everyone is plunged into their own hell. What sets Kallas’ film apart, is that she confronts everything unmoored from time, imagining past, present and future all at once. With a plot that fractures into what feels like a million tiny daggers, Kallas paints an audacious portrait of grief that feels wholly unique. This high school drama isn’t like the others, dissecting labyrinthian implications with addicting, dreamlike execution. 

On what could’ve been a day like any other, a science experiment goes horribly wrong. A student named Matty (Connor Siemer) pays the price, stuck in a coma as he narrates the aftermath and visits key characters and events from beyond his disfigured body. As his fellow classmates, teachers and family scramble to figure out what went wrong, everyone is forced to confront unsaid feelings toward one another and those that they hold dear. Of course, there’s more to the story than Matty is letting on, as a cosmic display of interwoven fate takes hold of all those involved.

Though it takes some time to get into the film’s splintering vernacular, it’s immediately obvious that Kallas is playing by her own rules. Split screens follow a large ensemble as small decisions turn into big chain reactions. Scenes spill into each other like stream of consciousness, and this unique ghost story takes ahold with clear urgency. Though Kallas’ film is based on a pain that isn’t foreign, her approach is an infinitely cacophonous experience exploring choice, regret, shame and anxiety. With a literal manifestation of guilt and tragedy hanging over each scene, the film explores how lives can endlessly clash and collide even as genuine connection is far and few between. For a film based in a high school, Kallas also switches things up by giving both kids and adults an equal spotlight. Much of the film thrives in the tenuous middle ground between youth and middle-aged apprehension. It all amounts to a film that uses common high school dynamics as an entry point for bigger questions about life, death and the thin border between both.

Rainbow Experiment review

By design, most of these characters, are pawns in a bigger picture. The ensemble is way too huge to name everyone, but there are a few standouts. The most obvious anchor is Connor Siemer, laying things down as narrator/victim. Though he’s more like a specter who comes and goes, Siemer makes the most of a distinct role. Breaking the fourth wall and heralding the film’s premise with a verve that quickly sours to something else, Siemer is a genuine presence that can’t be denied. Robert Z. Grant and Christian Coulson are great in tandem as two floating souls who keep finding themselves amongst the fringe. Meanwhile, Kevin Kane and Stratos Tzortzoglou find camaraderie by way of unlikely means. Overall, the cast lends the film a grounded, spontaneous feel that treads melodrama and deep existential torment. 

What The Rainbow Experiment does best, is examine the bubble we each live in. No matter how much we try, each of us can only present or experience a small fraction of who we are. Kallas’ film admirably tackles the implications of this, contrasting personal truths and realities with the shifting tides of nature. Though the film feels a bit long-winded at times, Kallas is a distinct voice who wants to go beyond surface. It’s engrossing stuff, and definitely the kind of brave experimentation we don’t get enough of.