REVIEW BY Ross Hughes HCF Official HCF Critic
“Is probably the best unhorror horror film of 2011 and the finest film about ballet since Suspira……..”
Before I start this review lets get the confused looks settled. For the past eighteen months there have been rumours of a Suspira remake with Natalie Portman in the lead role. Of course with Black Swan hitting the screens and with Portman playing a ballet dancer, many feel this is the film that was long rumoured to be the redo of Dario’s masterpiece. Well its not! In fact Suspira 2011 looks set for filming this year with David Gordon Green in the directors chair. A strange choice being that he directed the stoner comedy Pineapple Express and the soon to be released Your Highness which guess what? stars Portman whose expressed interest in any Suspria remake, and her already ties with Green, could see this rumour come more than true in the next few weeks.
Suspria and Black Swan are an eerily match. Its hard not to compare the two films even though in a bizarre way they are totally different. They both have an haunted outlook, a creepy vibe and somehow bring the world of ballet to the big screen in a tragic but beautiful way. Also a film that is about the term “perfection!”, should actually be all that. Each passing frame is a joy, the story gripping and the acting spot on. If Suspira is what Dario will forever be remembered for, then for Darren Aronofsky this is his masterpiece. That is quite a statement to make considering the likes of Requiem for a dream and The Wrestler on a CV but the less said about The Fountain the better!
Nina Sayer (Natalie Portman) is a determined young woman who is a professional ballerina for the New York City Ballet. When production director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace the ageing Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) as the lead role of his Swan Lake production, he has Nina in his sight. But while she has the grace and style, he suggests that she lacks the inner darkness that the role requires, and urges her to embrace her sexual power and push herself to get where she wants to be. As he kindly says “The only thing standing in your way is you”……
Black Swan virtually takes the subject of Method acting to the extreme. If you think Robert De Niro piling on the weight for Raging Bull was dedication, then you think twice when you see what Nina puts herself through. As I said the film is all centred around the word perfection and in an age where everyone seems to want to look good and be the next big thing, Black Swan shows you that the pressure is more scary than anyone holding a knife and wearing a mask.
Nina tries to take the advice of Leroy but by doing that she puts herself under immense pressure and with it comes the problems. The three women in her life also begin to bare frustration and all play a pivotal role in the proceedings. You have the experienced Beth who resents being pushed out of the limelight, her domineering mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who gave up ballet to look after Nina and is living her life through her daughter. Then and the most important one, the arrival of Lily (Mila Kunis) who is everything that Nina is not. She is sexy and beautiful (even though she shares an uncanny resemblance to Nina) and is probably more perfect for the lead role than Nina herself. When Leroy sees the talent in Lily and casts her has Nina’s understudy, then the pressure really begins to surface and soon the film goes into horror terrority but unlike what you used too.
The need to do everything right not only awakes something inside Nina but somehow damages her. You could actually call it a nervous breakdown, but the film suggests more than that, not only does it become a compelling watch, but a highly disturbing one. Nina begins to suspect Lily of being after her job and with Leroy not helping by playing mind games in which he hopes will get herself into the character, Nina pushes herself into the role but soon she starts to become unstable, not knowing what is fact or fiction, imaging changes to her own body and vicious attacks from all those around her.
This is where the surreal mind of Aronofsky comes to the core of the movie, not only does he fill the movie with questions of what is real and not, an emotion that you actually share with Nina. Aronofsky comes up with mind bending images that are a real take your breath away moment, the eyes of a painting that seem to come alive and of course the reflection in the mirror, are two set-pieces that will chill you to the bone. This may be the most unhorror of horrors of 2011, but not many will scare you like Black Swan does and Aronofsky also manages to outdo Requiem For A Dream in terms of imagery and downright surreal moments.
The film is ripe full of sexual tension and it crackles with atmosphere that soaks into your body and through your blood veins. The only gripe is that the beginning of the film is really slow and many may question where it is going, but those who stick by it are more than rewarded. In fact the difference between the start and the climax is frightening. While the opening half moves at a snails pace, the final half is a rollercoaster where Aronofsky ensures a need for you to gasp for breath, not that you want too, its easy to get lost in the madness of Black Swan and be swept away by the emotion and craze that filters from the screen.
Full credit must go to each and every one of the cast that are simply wonderful. Ryder is fantastic has Beth and its wonderful casting becau
se you actually believe that if Black Swan was made many years ago, then she probably would have had the role of Nina, so for her to play the ageing lead role being bypassed by a younger talent, fits in to real life. Cassel relishes his role, you will hate him for being such a sleaze ball but it again shows that there are directors out there who will stoop at nothing to achieve the ultimate goal of a wonderful production. Kunis is sexy and downright perfect while Hershey deserves many awards for her “mother”, whose aim to see Nina do the the things that she couldn’t brings a disturbing angle to the story.
But for all them and the credit I can give, its Portman who steals the show. Its very hard to generate sympathy for a character not much seen to an audience but she manages to and for me its her best work to date. The Oscar richly deserved for what is no question, the best acting of a female you see all year.
Saying that Black Swan fully deserved its Oscars Acclaim!. Its an original tale of the price of fame that will leave you confused and stunned. Not only is it the best horror of the year, but its a fully fledged masterpiece, the movie that Aronofsky will forever be remembered for. Its beautifully filmed with a wonderful score by long term collaborator Clint Mansell that gives the film the haunting tune it so perfectly needs.
And there is that word “perfect” again, for a film so much about that seven letter word, its amazing that for every scene and word spoken, Black Swan is what it requires to be……perfect in every sense of the word, his requiem for a dream, that Aronofsky has managed to create a masterpiece of sublime cinema
OVERALL: Simply put, Black Swan is a masterpiece, a film that you will not be able to shake out of your system for days, original and bold and completley erotic! Rating: