Greta: Directed by Neil Jordan. With Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Jane Perry. A young woman befriends a lonely widow who’s harboring a dark and deadly agenda toward her.
“Written by u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm1242522/\u003eRay Wrightu003c/au003e and u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm0001403/\u003eNeil Jordanu003c/au003e, and directed by Jordan, Greta is a schlocky B-movie through-and-through, with a completely ridiculous plot and over-the-top final act, all infused with a ludicrous generic campiness. Itu0026#39;s one of those films thatu0026#39;s so utterly horrendous in almost every way, itu0026#39;s actually kind of enjoyable. Kind of. Very much in the tradition of stalker-thrillers such as u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/title/tt0086984/\u003eBody Double (1984)u003c/au003e, u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/title/tt0093010/\u003eFatal Attraction (1987)u003c/au003e, and u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/title/tt0105414/\u003eSingle White Female (1992)u003c/au003e, although nowhere near as good as any of them, Greta was introduced at the Venice Film Festival as u0026quot;a twisted little thrilleru0026quot;. Well, itu0026#39;s certainly twisted, and itu0026#39;s also rather little, but there isnu0026#39;t a huge amount of thrilling going on. In fact, thereu0026#39;s precious little of anything going on, as Jordan seems to have precisely nothing to say; the film simply isnu0026#39;t inherently about anything. Although it is good for a few laughs (and Iu0026#39;m pretty sure not all of them intentional).u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eFrances McCullen (u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm1631269/\u003eChloë Grace Moretzu003c/au003e), a young Bostonian, is sharing an apartment in New York with her college friend Erica Penn (u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm2140860/\u003eMaika Monroeu003c/au003e). Having recently lost her mother to cancer, she is all-but-estranged from her workaholic father Chris (u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm0272173/\u003eColm Feoreu003c/au003e), with every conversation between them painfully taut. Returning home from her waitress job, Frances finds a handbag on the subway belonging to Greta Hideg (u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm0001376/\u003eIsabelle Huppertu003c/au003e, having an absolute blast). Bringing the bag to Gretau0026#39;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 otheru0026#39;s life. Although Erica thinks the relationship is u0026quot;weirdu0026quot;, 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, but Greta has no intentions of allowing Frances to walk out of her life.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eGreta is Neil Jordanu0026#39;s eighteenth film, and like much of his previous work (notably u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/title/tt0087075/\u003eThe Company of Wolves (1984)u003c/au003e, u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/title/tt0095304/\u003eHigh Spirits (1988)u003c/au003e, u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/title/tt0120710/\u003eIn Dreams (1999)u003c/au003e, and u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/title/tt1235796/\u003eOndine (2009)u003c/au003e), he imbues the milieu of Greta with fairy tale tropes; Gretau0026#39;s home, for example, is so obviously inspired by u0026quot;Hansel and Gretelu0026quot; it may as well as have been made of gingerbread, whilst Frances has more than a hint of Little Red Riding Hoodu0026#39;s innocence and naïveté about her.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eHowever, this is a u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm0000339/\u003eRoger Cormanu003c/au003e-style B-movie before it is anything else. 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; and so, in Greta, upon a barrage of calls and texts from Greta, Frances neither blocks Gretau0026#39;s number nor changes her own; when Greta starts calling the landline, neither Frances nor Erica think to unplug it; although itu0026#39;s never explicitly stated that Greta has a key to the girlsu0026#39; apartment, the fact that she seems to pop in and out at will suggests she does, yet the girls donu0026#39;t change the locks; Francesu0026#39;s big plan to combat Greta is to root through her garbage to try to find something incriminating; when trapped in Gretau0026#39;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 will surely get a chuckle from such appalling writingu003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThe 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, and is clearly having an absolute blast with the part – whether itu0026#39;s literally dancing across the set as she commits homicide, spitting chewing-gum into Francesu0026#39;s hair, gleefully engaging in some DIY emergency medicine, or overturning a table as if her life depended on it. She practically winks at the camera a couple of times, and commits totally to every bonkers moment, which come thick and fast in the last act.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThematically, the film flirts with a few issues, but never really penetrates any of them. One could read it as a satire of NYPD inefficiency, the ineffectiveness of the justice system, and the misnomer that in a post #MeToo society, itu0026#39;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 u0026quot;itu0026#39;s not harassment if itu0026#39;s in a public placeu0026quot;. 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.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eFrom an aesthetic point of view, the film signals its campiness right from the off, opening with u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm0518728/\u003eJulie Londonu003c/au003eu0026#39;s 1963 cover of u0026quot;Where Are You?u0026quot; Visually, as you would expect from Jordan, everything looks great. u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm0705213/\u003eAnna Rackardu003c/au003eu0026#39;s production design contrasts the dark brown classical feel of the interior of Gretau0026#39;s house with the bright, grey, modernist look of the girlsu0026#39; sleek apartment. Also worth mentioning is how Jordan and director of photography u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm0568974/\u003eSeamus McGarveyu003c/au003e 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. Itu0026#39;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 sheu0026#39;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 u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm2512313/\u003eNick Emersonu003c/au003e is especially impressive here, cutting rhythmically between Erica, Frances, and inserts of the picture messages, as the tension mounts. Again, itu0026#39;s a very unsettling scene, and a unique way to stage a chase. Finally, thereu0026#39;s the sound design by u003ca class=ipc-md-link ipc-md-link–entity href=/name/nm0377702/\u003eStefan Henrixu003c/au003e, which is noticeable in what it doesnu0026#39;t do; whenever we are outside, there are the typical sounds of a city that you would expect, however, when we move into Gretau0026#39;s house, the sound design is dialled back almost to zero (much quieter than the girlsu0026#39; apartment), creating the impression of the house as somehow separate from the frantic pace of the city right outside the door.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eOn 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 wouldnu0026#39;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. Itu0026#39;s very distracting, and really wouldnu0026#39;t have required that much effort to fix. This is especially irritating insofar as the locationu0026#39;s significance is built into the script (itu0026#39;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.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eAnd there are a myriad of other problems. For starters, thereu0026#39;s the script, wherein none of the characters are given much in the way of interiority or psychological verisimilitude. Frances and Greta have some rudimentary backstory, but it isnu0026#39;t enough to compensate for their lack of psychology. Thereu0026#39;s little emotional complexity anywhere in the film, no real sense of any of the characters having an unconscious. And whilst the ludicrousness of Huppertu0026#39;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 screenwritersu0026#39; 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.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eGreta is a rote stalker-thriller that looks great, but offers nothing we havenu0026#39;t seen before; itu0026#39;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, itu0026#39;s hard to really figure out what Jordan was aiming for with this. You canu0026#39;t call it a psychological thriller about obsession and loneliness, because it does nothing with these themes, but you canu0026#39;t call it a self-aware B-movie, because Jordan doesnu0026#39;t seem to be fully cognisant that itu0026#39;s campy schlock. Huppertu0026#39;s crazy performance elevates the material significantly, but even she canu0026#39;t paper over all the cracks. Itu0026#39;s been 23 years since Jordan has made anything significant, and on the evidence of his last few films, itu0026#39;s going to be a while before he does so again.”