A wooden splint. A chemical solution. A Bunsen burner. Elements of a standard flame test or components of a crime? Such a line of questioning is at the core of Christina Kallas’ The Rainbow Experiment, which follows the aftermath of a high school Chemistry lesson gone horribly wrong. “Disruptive” student Matty Fairchild (Connor Siemer) is called to the front of the class by teacher Ms Dhawan (Nina Mehta) to try the experiment for himself, only to drop the splint into the burner and cause the flame to erupt and engulf him. While Matty lies comatose in the hospital with life-threatening burns, investigators are brought in to get to the bottom of how, and why, the accident happened. Their interviews with students and staff, however, reveal as much about the characters’ personal lives as they do about the events of the incident, the ripple effects of which we see unfold right before our very eyes.
Time and space fold into one another as the narrative jumps between the past, present and future, primarily narrated by Matty himself who appears as an invisible ‘apparition’ in some scenes. Invisible to the characters, of course, whom he speaks to although he cannot be heard. He addresses us, too, giving us quick-fire snapshots of information about those involved in the incident, before introducing himself as “the victim” in a chillingly upbeat tone. It’s a fantastically frenzied and abnormal exposition, made all the more frenetic by its many jump cuts and whip pans. This kind of energy is dialled right down in later scenes, giving way to a more unrushed pace which is inevitably drawn out too long in order to cover the stories of the 36 principal characters. A cast of this size is ambitious and admirable but, unsurprisingly, some characters end up being much less relevant than others. That being said, Kallas makes sure that no character goes unnoticed, occasionally using split-screens to follow the action in four different places at one time. We are fly-on-the-wall witnesses: equally omniscient as the school’s four walls, which makes for an immersive and memorable viewing experience.
The twists and turns of the story do not lead to a straight-forward ending; an open mind is required to the accept the sudden bending of reality that leaves you questioning everything you’ve just seen. It’s a fitting conclusion: a film as unique as The Rainbow Experiment warrants such mystery.
by Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. An old soul, she is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Her life ambition is to dress like Phillip “Duckie” Dale from Pretty in Pink, her one true style icon. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.