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By Stephen Campbell September 4, 2019
**_Insubstantial and forgettable, but Huppert makes it moderately entertaining_**
> _The philosopher is right who says that nothing thicker than a knife's blade separates happiness from melancholy; and he goes on to opine that one is twin fellow to the other; and draws from this the conclusion that all extremes of feeling are allied with madness._
- Virginia Woolf; _Orlando_ (1928)
In Claude Chabrol's _Violette Nozière_ (1978), Isabelle Huppert plays a prostitute who contracts syphilis from a client, tells her parents she inherited the disease from them, kills her father, tries to kill her mother, and falsely claims that her father molested her. In Chabrol's _La Cérémonie_ (1995), she plays a woman who shoots an entire family to death as they watch TV. In Michael Haneke's _La Pianiste_ (2001), she plays a pianist who uses broken glass to injure the hand of a fellow professional. In Christophe Honoré's _Ma Mère_ (2004), she plays a woman who commits suicide whilst having sex with her son, timing it so that her death coincides with his orgasm (just don't ask). In Paul Verhoeven's _Elle_ (2016), she plays a rape victim who sets out for revenge on her rapist, all the while indulging in ever more extreme play-rape scenarios with her (married) neighbour. It's quite a CV of depravity (and that's only five of the 120+ films in which she has appeared).
And so we have _Greta_. Written by Ray Wright (_Pulse_; _Case 39_) and Neil Jordan, and directed by Jordan (_The Company of Wolves_; _The Crying Game_; _Interview with the Vampire_; _Michael Collins_), this is schlocky B-movie territory through-and-through, with a completely ridiculous plot and over-the-top final act, all infused with a ludicrous generic campiness. It's one of those films that's so utterly horrendous in almost every way, it's actually kind of enjoyable. Kind of. Very much in the tradition of stalker-thrillers such as Brian De Palma's _Body Double_ (1984), Adrian Lyne's _Fatal Attraction_ (1987), and Barbet Schroeder's _Single White Female_ (1992), although nowhere near as good as any of them, _Greta_ was introduced at the Venice Film Festival as "_a twisted little thriller_". Well, it's certainly twisted, and it's also rather little, but there isn't a huge amount of thrilling going on. Same problem if you want to call it a psychological thriller, as there's precious little psychology. In fact, there's precious little of anything going on, as Jordan seems to have precisely nothing to say; the film simply isn't inherently _about_ anything. Although it is good for a few laughs (and I'm pretty sure not all of them intentional).
Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young Bostonian, is sharing an apartment in New York with her college friend Erica Penn (Maika Monroe). Having recently lost her mother to cancer, she is all-but-estranged from her workaholic father Chris (the great Canadian Shakespearean actor Colm Feore), with every conversation painfully taut. Returning home from her waitress job, Frances finds a handbag on the subway belonging to Greta Hideg (Huppert). Bringing the bag to Greta's house, the two share tea, as Greta explains her husband died some time ago, and her daughter is living in Paris, leaving her feeling lonely. They strike up a friendship, with each filling an emotional void in the other's life. Although Erica thinks the relationship is "weird", Frances ignores her, and she and Greta grow ever closer. However, as Greta prepares dinner one evening, Frances finds a collection of handbags identical to the one she found on the subway, each labelled with a name and phone number. Deeply concerned, Frances tries to cut ties with Greta, conceding that Erica was correct. Greta, however, has no intentions of allowing Frances to walk out of her life.
_Greta_ is Neil Jordan's eighteenth film, and the eleventh to feature Stephen Rea (here playing a rather useless private detective), and his output has always been patchy; for every classic like _Mona Lisa_ (1986) and _The Crying Game_, there's a _We're No Angels_ (1989) and a _Byzantium_ (2012). Something in which he has always been interested, and which infuses many of his films, is folklore, especially fairy tales. Obvious in films such as _The Company of Wolves_ (1984), _High Spirits_ (1988), _In Dreams_ (1999), and _Ondine_ (2009), it's also to be found just below the surface in everything from _Angel_ (1985) to _The Miracle_ (1991) to _Breakfast on Pluto_ (2005). In _Greta_, Jordan allows his familiarity with the tropes of classic fairy tales to imbue the film's _milieu_, especially in relation to Greta's home, which is so obviously inspired by "Hansel and Gretel" it may as well as have been made of gingerbread, whilst Frances has more than a hint of Little Red Riding Hood's innocence and _naïveté_ about her.
However, this is a Roger Corman-style B-movie before it is anything else. For example, something you see a lot in B-movie thrillers is that when danger is apparent, otherwise intelligent characters must act like complete and utter simpletons; so, upon a barrage of calls and texts from Greta, Frances neither blocks Greta's number nor changes her own; when Greta starts calling the landline, neither Frances nor Erica think to unplug it; although it's never explicitly stated that Greta has a key to the girls' apartment, the fact that she seems to pop in and out at will suggests she does, yet the girls don't change the locks; Frances's big plan to combat Greta is to root through her garbage to try to find something incriminating; when trapped in Greta's house, after trying the door and one window, Frances thinks the best course of action is to flee to the dark cellar. Whether the film intends for this level of stupidity to be humorous or not is beside the point; anyone who has ever seen a movie (any movie) will surely get a chuckle from such appalling writing
The question one must ask, then, is whether or not Jordan is actually in on the joke. It remains somewhat ambiguous, but I would say, for the most part, that he is not, and that he seems to take the material relatively seriously. What is certain, however, is that Huppert is very much aware of the ludicrousness around her. Although _Greta_ is nowhere near the most extreme character she's played, she is clearly having an absolute blast with the part - whether it's delivering her lines as if she's over-rehearsed them, literally dancing across the set as she commits homicide, spitting chewing-gum into Frances's hair, gleefully engaging in some DIY emergency medicine, standing completely motionless in a city street, or overturning a table as if her life depended on it, you rarely see a performance wherein the performer is so joyful; she practically winks at the camera a couple of times. She commits totally to every bonkers moment, which come thick and fast in the last act. Without her exuberant performance, the film would be virtually unwatchable; Moretz is fairly wooden; Monroe's Erica is a blank slate rather than a character; Feore is wasted in only two scenes; and Rea is his usual hang-dog self. Only Huppert pops. But man alive does she pop bigly!
Thematically, the film flirts with a few issues, but never really penetrates any of them. One could certainly read it as a satire of NYPD inefficiency, the ineffectiveness of the justice system, and the misnomer that in a post #MeToo society, it's easier for women to report instances of stalking and harassment and be believed; when Frances makes a formal complaint about Greta, a bored policeman tells her "_it's not harassment if it's in a public place_". Later on, when Frances tries to file a restraining order, she is told it could be months before her case is heard. When Greta is taken into custody at one point, she is released almost immediately, despite clearly being unstable.
From an aesthetic point of view, the film signals its campiness right from the off, opening with Julie London's 1963 cover of "Where Are You?" As you would expect from Jordan, the film looks great. In relation to the production design by Anna Rackard (_Boy Eats Girl_; _Love & Friendship_), the dark brown classical feel of the interior of Greta's house, with delicate sunlight filtering through the curtains, and looking, for all the world, like a 19th century rural French cottage, contrasts sharply with the bright, grey, modernist look of the girls' sleek apartment. Jordan's regular set decorator John Neligan must also be mentioned, as he fills Greta's house with innumerable trinkets whilst leaving the girls' environment relatively unadorned. Also worth mentioning is how Jordan and director of photography Seamus McGarvey (_The Hours_; _We Need to Talk About Kevin_; _Nocturnal Animals_) shoot scenes of Greta watching Frances menacingly from outside the restaurant where she works - placing her dead centre in the frame as she remains completely motionless, in the midst of a flurry of movement and passers-by all around her. It's a very creepy image.
Another really well mounted part of the film is a scene where Greta is following Erica. Although neither Erica nor the audience ever actually see Greta, we know she's there, because she keeps sending Frances picture messages of her pursuit, as Frances is on the phone to Erica telling her to run. The editing by Nick Emerson (_Starred Up_; _Lady Macbeth_; _Daphne_) is especially impressive here, cutting rhythmically between Erica, Frances, and inserts of the picture messages, as the tension mounts. Again, it's a very unsettling scene, and a unique way to stage a chase. Finally, there's the sound design by Stefan Henrix (_The Devil's Double_; _Britannia_), which is noticeable in what it doesn't do; whenever we are outside, there are the typical sounds of a city that you would expect, however, when we move into Greta's house, the sound design is dialled back almost to zero (much quieter than the girls' apartment), creating the impression of the house as somehow separate from the frantic pace of the city right outside the door.
On the other hand, the aesthetic very much lets the film down in terms of location. Although set in New York, it was shot primarily in Dublin, with some pick-ups in Toronto, and it shows. Granted, I live in Dublin and was able to pick out most of the locations in a way someone not from here wouldn't. But irrespective of that, the filmmakers seem to have made little effort to disguise the location; from the sequence of the traffic lights to the side of the road on which the cars drive to the street signs. It's very distracting, and really wouldn't have required that much effort to fix. This is especially irritating insofar as the location's significance is built into the script (it's mentioned several times that if Frances were from New York she would never have picked up the bag). So the fact that so little effort has gone into actually making the film look like it was shot in New York is disappointing.
Unfortunately, there are a myriad of other problems. For starters, there's the script, which never feels like anything other than pure genre fare. Yes, it's to be lauded for using women in the role of both stalker and stalked, when stalker-thrillers have traditionally been about male anxiety. However, it doesn't take this trope anywhere, as if simply having two women at the centre is enough, and doesn't need further comment. When _clichéd_ issues like vulnerability, loneliness, and obsession are presented in a _clichéd_ manner, they don't cease to be _clichéd_ just because they've been given an undercoat of pseudo-feminism. The opportunity to engage with gender politics is right there, but is disappointingly avoided.
Another problem with the script is that none of the characters are given much in the way of interiority or psychological verisimilitude. Frances and Greta have some rudimentary backstory, but it isn't enough to compensate for their lack of psychology. There's little emotional complexity anywhere in the film, no real sense of any of the characters having an unconscious. And whilst the ludicrousness of Huppert's performance distracts from this and transcends the limitations of the writing, Moretz remains unable to break free. In this sense, she comes across like a cog in the screenwriters' machinery, only behaving in such and such a way because the plot dictates it, with scene after perfunctory scene doing only enough to get us to the next scene and nothing else. Neither Moretz nor Monroe are able to escape the generic moulds of their character-types; the bright-eyed and innocent newbie whose kindness will be her downfall, and the tough friend who seems churlish and cynical but who ultimately proves to have been right all along.
_Greta_ is a rote stalker-thriller that looks great, but offers nothing we haven't seen before; it's essentially a potboiler in a nice suit. No different from any of the late 80s/early 90s obsession thrillers, the plot is plodding and uninspired and the characters are underwritten. When all is said and done, it's hard to really figure out what Jordan was aiming for with this. You can't call it a psychological thriller about obsession and loneliness, because it does nothing with these themes, but you can't call it a self-aware and campy B-movie, because Jordan doesn't seem to be fully cognisant that it's campy schlock. Huppert's batshit insane performance elevates the material significantly, but even she can't paper over all the cracks. It's been 23 years since Jordan has made anything of real significance, and on the evidence of his last few films, it's going to be a while before he does so again.
By JPV852 September 4, 2019
Decent enough thriller but not especially memorable, though both Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz turned in fine performances. It's probably fine as a rental.
By msbreviews April 24, 2019
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Every year, there are a couple of underrated and/or overlooked movies. Greta is 2019’s first film to belong to both categories. It was definitely overlooked since Hellboy stole the spotlight, and it’s also underrated based on online feedback. Critics being divisive is kind of expected, but audiences are disliking Greta more than the former group, which I find quite surprising. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a lot and that’s mostly due to the outstanding performances of its leads. Isabelle Huppert is incredible as Greta, as expected from such an acclaimed actress. Her character has a very mysterious personality which is well-developed throughout the runtime. Undeniably, her character’s past and decisions turn out to be a bit questionable, in terms of logic. I don’t believe that it’s straight-up rubbish, but I can’t deny that some aspects of her persona lack consistency and sense. Fortunately, it’s nowhere near Serenity‘s level of absurdity. In the end, Huppert elevates her script and delivers a creepily captivating display.
Chloë Grace Moretz is one of the most talented young actresses out there, and I already stated a few years ago that she will be a much-desired star, sooner or later. In this movie, she shows off the subtlety of her expressions at the same time that she proves how amazing her range is. She embodies the charitable and innocent personality of her character like she is, indeed, Frances. Two wonderful performances that become even better due to the palpable chemistry that the two actresses have with each other. With such a short runtime, their interactions are interesting in the beginning, becoming more and more intriguing as time goes by. In addition to these two, Maika Monroe (Erica Penn) surprised the hell out of me! Not only her character doesn’t follow the stereotypical “blonde, dumb friend”, but she really offers an exceptional performance.
The screenplay does have some narrative issues, being most of them related to Greta, as mentioned above. It’s hard to imagine that what happens in the second half of the film could occur in real life as it’s depicted, which instantly kills most movies. However, it’s not as unbelievable as people might think at first, and after some thought, it’s actually pretty reasonable, having in mind the psychological factor. It doesn’t separate itself from the genre’s cliches and it’s quite predictable throughout, even though the ending comes as a nice surprise. It’s the typical B-movie that’s good to see at home on a Sunday afternoon, but if you catch it in the theaters, you won’t regret the money spent.
Greta is 2019’s first underrated and overlooked film. With two extremely captivating performances by Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz, this B-movie truly stands out from the most recent flicks of the same type. The leads’ chemistry carries most of the engaging story, even though a word of praise must go to Maika Monroe for her display. The indisputable narrative problems can either be completely nonsensical or reasonable, at best, depending on what kind of moviegoer you are. There are enough justifications for interpreting the second half events and Huppert‘s character actions as both silly or realistic. I stand on the latter, and I enjoyed myself during the whole runtime. Go see it if you catch it near you. If you don’t, be sure to watch at home.