Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Black Swan

When I saw a that a 'Suspense Thriller' received so many award mentions this year, I got more excited than a little girl getting ready for her very first pony ride (or something equally exciting). But when I heard that my personal king of the genre, Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Pi, The Wrestler) was the director, my excitement quickly warped into something even more wonderful: pure, uncontrollable fear. And I'm happy to report my fearful expectations were well placed, as Black Swan is by far the most psychologically intense and frightening film of 2010.

The first thing that audience members should notice is the film's distinct old-fashioned feel, with a very classical soundtrack (fitting of the ballet background story and thus heightening the sense of realism) and traditional camera techniques. Whilst some might find this approach a bit alienating at first, Aronofsky does a brilliant job at integrating and justifying this interesting, almost nostalgic methodology, as all the individual elements of the film come together quite magnificently. 

At it's core, Black Swan is a character study, done in a way that will immediately remind fans of Aronofsky's most well known psycho-thriller, the chilling and disturbing 'Requiem for a Dream'. Black Swan does however feel more poignant, largely due to its more central focus (Requiem for a dream focusses on a number of different character's point of view), giving it an even harsher dreadful effect.

"...my excitement quickly warped into something even more wonderful: pure, uncontrollable fear."

As a character study, it is obviously important that a strong protagonist lead the piece: Natalie Portman, who is no stranger to extremely dramatic roles is more than well equipped to drive this riveting tale of a highly dedicated, but mentally unstable ballet dancer that gets the stage part of her life. A powerful ensemble cast of Mila Kunis, Winona Ryder and Vincent Cassel as the main antagonists keep the plot moving along at lightning speed. Special mention must however go to cinema veteran, Barbara Hershey, playing the role of the Swan's concerned, but unpredictable parental figure.

Whilst the film definitely takes a 'style over substance' approach, it does say quite a lot about the pressures on performing artists as well as how most of man's intense confrontations are with oneself.

But for the most part, Black Swan just wants to freak the living daylights out of you, a feat it accomplishes with deadly success by means of disturbing imagery that leaves one more than just marginally unsettled. Aronofsky uses an effective combination of scare tactics that include everything from traditional horror mechanics, a disturbing look at sexual desires to quick-shifting camera shots that builds the tension.

This thick thread of tension is carefully spun by Aronofsky from the very first scene and never lets go, building up to a magnificent crescendo – the last 20 minutes of the movie takes the viewers by the throat, as the film spirals down a dark melodramatic gorge that only let's go once the credits thankfully start to roll. 

There's a lot more that one can say about this rare suspense gem, but the less you know beforehand, the better – Just make sure you don't miss it when is starts showing at theaters across the country!

Bloody eyes is the least of Portman's problems...

Highlight: The last 20 minutes of the film will shake you.

Rating: 4-and-a-half Meerkat Tails