For Halloween week, I’m watching and reviewing highly-regarded horror films that I’ve never seen before.
Title: Black Swan
Release Date: December 3, 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Production Company: Cross Creek Pictures | Protozoa Pictures | Phoenix Pictures | Dune Entertainment
This isn’t a conventional choice for a horror film but it deals with the protagonist having a mental breakdown, hallucinations, sexual assault, self-harm, eating disorders, and extremely unhealthy relationships, all things that are horrifying in their own ways. Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a dancer selected for lead role in a New York City ballet company’s performance of Swan Lake.
Nina faces numerous conflicts, including internal, as she attempts to achieve “perfection” in her dance. The company’s artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) drives her to let go of her inhibitions and makes unwanted sexual advances. Nina’s mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), was a dancer in her younger days and is a protective stage mother eager to command Nina’s career. Beth McIntyre (Winona Ryder) is the former prima ballerina forced into retirement by Thomas, who takes out her resentment on Nina. And then there is a new dancer to the company, Lily (Mila Kunis), who lacks Nina’s technical skills, but embodies the sensuality Thomas is looking for in his dancers, and she is appointed as Nina’s alternate.
Since the movie is presented from Nina’s point of view, we often see Lily as a rival, as Nina fears Lily will take her part. I think in reality that Lily is actually friendly and only wants to reach out to Nina but suffers her projection. As the narrative moves toward the opening night of Swan Lake, Nina’s hallucinations become more vivid and violent. There’s a significant amount of body horror in this film, even when simply focusing on the dancer’s ordinary performance where the camera focuses on the sights and sounds of the stress on their bodies.
The movie is no doubt a bit cheezy and cliched. There are some plot points that seemed staged to increase the drama without being realistic (like, would a prima ballerina really be responsible for putting on her own makeup alone in a dressing room?). Nevertheless, Portman’s strong acting helps make the film better. I’m also impressed by the camera work that follows Portman around when she’s on stage which really draws one into the performance.