21 Jan 2011

Lessons learned from Black Swan

Deadly Movies Reviews (of sorts) | Black Swan (2010)

Natalie Portman in 'Black Swan'

This is less of a review of Darren Aronofsky’s superb ‘Black Swan‘ (you find them anywhere you want) and more of a op-ed on what horror can learn from it. Many will question Black Swan’s use in a horror article. Is it horror at all? In the the 1940s it would have most definitely counted as horror (psychological horror in the vain of ‘The Cat People‘). By today’s standards It’s much harder to pigeon hole into the horror genre. Not that it matters, It’s just a bloody good movie. But horror, which has become about as visceral as film can become, can learn a lot from it.

Claustrophobia: Aronofsky’s stylistic approach here is to not give Natalie Portman’s Nina or the audience any room to breath. The camera is in her face the entire time. We, and Nina, are kept locked in close frame for most of the movie. We barely get any release or relief from this tight claustrophobic atmosphere. What does this achieve? It achieves a heightened sense of tension for us and the character. Meaning that a simple fingernail or toenail tear is more excruciating than many gross-out kills which are the easy fallback for contemporary horror.

Ambiguity: Too many modern horrors rely heavily on stupid twists or reveals to present us with a truth.., or the ‘it was me all along’ moment. There is nothing wrong with keeping the audience guessing. The ending, and events leading up to the ending, of ‘Black Swan‘ are puzzling and disorientating. You can question not only the ending, but most of the events in the film. It leaves the audience gasping for breath when the credits role.

Simplicity: This was a horrible experience that happened to one girl as she, and everyone else, went about their daily business. You don’t have to be stranded in hillbilly land without mobile signal, you don’t have to encounter supernatural creatures, you don’t have to be the sole survivor or a zombie apocalypse. All of those conventions are fine and work. But there are other ways, simpler ways, of conveying horror.

These are just a few of my thoughts. Some modern horror is tremendous. Most is, sadly, awful. Aronofsky may not have delivered a modern horror classic (I’m sure that wasn’t the intention anyway) but ‘Black Swan‘ does show us how effective simple techniques can be in producing truly horrific scenarios.

No comments:

Post a Comment