M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved starting with the year I began reviewing the genre officially October 1, 2010 through October 1, 2011. I have posted my best of lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around a bit. I’ve even added a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!

How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2010 and September 30, 2011 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released December 17, 2010. Available on Video On Demand, digital download, and DVD/BluRay!

#5 – BLACK SWAN (2010)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman, John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Andres Heinz (story/screenplay)
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied, Ksenia Solo, Kristina Anapau, Janet Montgomery, Sebastian Stan, Toby Hemingway, Sergio Torrado, Mark Margolis, Tina Sloan, Abraham Aronofsky, Charlotte Aronofsky, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Shaun O’Hagan, Chris Gartin, Deborah Offner, Stanley B. Herman
Find out more about this film here!

Not sure why I didn’t even put this one in my countdown back in 2010. Maybe because I saw it in December of 2010 and somehow forgot about it come the end of summer 2011 when I was completing my final spots for the countdown. Maybe because at the time, I was more rigid with what I considered to be “Horror” and thought the film might have been too mainstream for my countdown. Whatever it was, having rewatched BLACK SWAN, it is definitely a horror film and most definitely one of the best of the 2010-2011 season.

At the point of BLACK SWAN’s release, Darren Aronofsky could do no wrong. After equal parts dazzling and soul-draining me with REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, he followed up with the visually enchanting, but divisive THE FOUNTAIN. But he totally redeemed himself with the heartfelt and down to earth THE WRESTLER and I was really looking forward to BLACK SWAN as it hinted at being a twisted version of already twisted films like FIGHT CLUB and SUSPIRIA. Mind you, this was long before the director lost his frikkin’ mind and delivered the shat on a cracker buffet that was MOTHER!

BLACK SWAN follows meek but ambitious professional ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) who lives with her mother and dreams of becoming the star performer in the renowned dance company in New York City. Like many in her profession, dance is her life and is solely focused on achieving her dreams. When the lead ballerina (Winona Ryder) becomes too long in the tooth for the company’s big show, the director (Vincent Cassel) begins looking Nina’s way for a replacement. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina’s only competition. Lily is everything Nina isn’t. She lives life to the fullest and somehow still dances circles around Nina, gaining the director’s eye. With the lead in Swan Lake requiring the dancer to show both a dark and light side, it is evident that Nina is perfect for the light, but Lily fits the bill for the dark. Competition is fierce, and as both Nina and Lily vie for the role, they begin a contemptuous friendship where only one can live on with the role.

BLACK SWAN is a story might best be described as a modern take on SUSPIRIA. Though there is nary a witch, it does take place deeply entrenched in the world of dance and shows the dark underbelly of the profession with an unblinking eye. In a profession where nothing shy of perfection is passible, Nina is obsessed with being flawless. This obsession corrupts when she sees competition in Lily and this becomes the major conflict of the story. When Nina sees her rival do just as well as she does while living the life she has deprived from herself, it sparks a dark fire inside of her. Nina is tempted to Lily’s dark ways and this proves to be detrimental to her performance and causes Nina’s carefully structured life to topple around her. Aronofsky illustrates this common, yet tragic tale masterfully with dream-like choreography and nightmarish imagery.

Natalie Portman plays the fragile Nina to perfection. There are many similarities between Nina and Carrie from the Stephen King classic, especially the scenes between her and her mother (played by the phenomenal Barbara Hershey). With her mother being both overly supportive and mentally unstable, this provides wonderful foreshadowing of Nina’s fragile mental state that crumbles as this story moves on. This is a descent into madness of the most exquisite and nuanced kind. While the story is one oft-told, the performances and direction make it all feel fresh and new. But everything hinges on Portman to pull it off and she does so in one of my favorite performances in the young actresses long career. The rest of the cast, especially Mila Kunis (who really hadn’t been tested with serious acting before given her experience being mostly THAT 70’S SHOW), are amazing as well. The simple fact that Portman and Kunis were able to learn ballet for the role shows their dedication and skill, but the nuanced way the two mirror each other is the stuff of the finest of acting.

So, you might be asking, “Where’s the horror?” Well, it’s subtle but the horror is prevalent throughout. Aronofsky does the same thing with BLACK SWAN as he did with THE WRESTLER, only to a much darker level. He takes a profession (THE WRESTLER) and highlights the shadowy parts of them. Just as we get close and personal with Mickey Rourke’s heart-addled risks every time he enters the ring, we get to see the bulimia, the bunions, the muscle-shredding hours spent on the dance floor in BLACK SWAN. There’s a ton of both psychological horror as well as body horror going on as we see the enormous pressure Nina is under with a sick mom, a myriad of rivals, and everyone around her sniping for her spot in the spotlight. Add in the horrifying final sequence where Nina takes the darkest of paths transforming from swan to bird of prey and this most definitely qualifies as horror.

Aronofsky highlights the pitch-black side of beauty and perfection in BLACK SWAN. Sure, one may be able to argue that it is predictable and derivative, but the imagery, direction and performances make it uniquely distinct. Films like CARRIE, SUSPIRIA, FIGHT CLUB, and even PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, may come to mind, but Aronofsky was able to find an uncommon freshness here—mainly due to the unforgettable performance and dedication of Natalie Portman. BLACK SWAN is ugly, beautiful, horrifying, and exquisite perfection and I’m sorry I missed it the first time around with this countdown.

THE 2010-2011 COUNTDOWN!

#8 – LET ME IN
#10 – RED, WHITE, & BLUE
#22 – RUBBER
#27 – HUSK
#30 – LA HORDE

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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