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'Black Swan' bows in New York

Natalie Portman in

Natalie Portman in "Black Swan" Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Director Darren Aronofsky presented “Black Swan” as the closing-night film at the Hamptons International Film Festival on Sunday, giving New Yorkers their first look at the follow-up to his Oscar-nominated 2008 drama “The Wrestler.”

The movie is easy enough to summarize: Natalie Portman stars as a high-strung ballerina competing against a sensual rival, played by Mila Kunis. But it's less easy to categorize. After the screening, patrons wondered aloud how to describe it -- psychological thriller? Horror-chiller? -- and at least one viewer asked Aronofsky to clarify the ending. (He did, but let’s not spoil it.)

Aronofsky did call it a “horror film” in his brief Q-and-A. These days the term calls up thoughts of body-counts and excessive gore, but “Black Swan” seems more like a horror film from a past era. Writer Mark Heyman, also in attendance, cited the one movie that was probably on many viewers’ minds: Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion,” from 1965, another story about an immature girl descending into madness. Both movies have discomfiting sexual overtones (and, some might argue, a sexist undertow).

But nobody mentioned William Friedkin’s modern horror classic “The Exorcist,” from 1973. Both films make powerful use of sound – Aronofsky revealed that many of the guttural sighs and throaty whirring noises came from actual swans and birds. Both films  also dabble in near-subliminal imagery. Some of the best scares in “Black Swan” last only a second, possibly less.

Of course you’re probably wondering about the rumored sex scene between Portman and Kunis. It’s in there. It’s also far more graphic than most of the girl-on-girl titillation that occasionally pops up in Hollywood movies. Kunis gets one of the film’s funniest lines – “Was I good?” – though you’ll need to see it to get the joke.

As a side note, Fox Searchlight Pictures is hoping "Black Swan" will catch on as a Halloween costume.

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