You know how growing up your parents would tell you, “Don’t talk to strangers”? I can’t say that I listened too well and honestly got a lot of gratifying experiences out of meeting new people. However; after watching Neil Jordan’s “Greta,” I’m really going to have to reverse my way of thinking and not operate from a place of giving people the benefit of doubt. I’m way too loveable to survive in this crazy world chock full of weirdos and the last thing I need is folks masked as sweet people with hidden agendas trying to teach me piano and stick me in toy boxes.
“Greta,” centers around a young, sweet, I think post-grad from Boston; Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz). She finds a handbag on the New York City subway and promptly returns it to an even sweeter and unassuming older woman; Greta (Isabelle Huppert). Greta is an eccentric French piano teacher who loves tea and classical music. Having recently lost her mother, young Frances strikes up a seemingly harmless friendship with the lonely and kindly widow who enjoys her company. But when Greta's behavior becomes increasingly erratic and obsessive, Frances does whatever it takes to end the toxic relationship before things spiral out of control.
Yeah, so Frances just really couldn’t see things coming. And I think most of us would handle things not all that different. Personally, there’s been a couple of times I found a wallet or purse and in order to prove to the hopeless that there are good people out in the world, without giving it a thought I’d go, and hand deliver the items to its owner. Thankfully I’ve yet to be drugged or attacked by elderly women but the experience was rewarding on both sides honestly.
“Greta” is a story about tackling grief and dealing with isolation. The plot is pretty straight forward and doesn’t leave much of a, mystery based on how the film was marketed. The trailer shows you all the beats, so you’re mainly enjoying the film rooting for Frances to get out of a bad situation and how. Unfortunately, the movie does more to expose the flaws in our justice system than to champion a specific theme. We see more of what great lengths depraved people out in the world go to when deep obsession turns psychotic than tackling issues of how to deal with trauma when someone close to you is gone.
On one hand, Isabelle Huppert is a marvel. Hands down the strongest performance of the year cinematically that I’ve seen, goes to the French Meryl Streep as she’s labeled. This is definitely a breakout role for her state side and in horror/ thriller circles its comfortably in the Kathy Bates caliber of performances. As the titular villain Greta is a disturbed individual that has many layers and organically intensifies the terror with nuance and who’s acting decisions are a real treat for this type of film.
The marketing while it caught my attention, had a smaller to medium size saturation and is evident in the films box office take. Huppert taking on this role is not necessarily odd, but at the age and stage of her career could be seen as a risk especially if the movie was an all-out stinker. The film as a whole is uneven and that has more to do with the script and direction the creators brought to the table. Huppert’s performance saves the movie and delivers an anchor to ground as much as we can from the rest of the cast and plot.
The beauty of a lot of classic horror movie villains is the origin to be somewhat shrouded in mystery. Not that the curiosity shouldn’t be investigated but that most of the direction put into finding out more about these characters comes at the expense of the protagonist’s choices and the execution narratively.
After such horrific interactions after Greta’s true intentions were revealed what woman in their right mind would return the victimizer’s home to dig up dirt on them? As an audience we should be willing to suspend some disbelief, but a lot of the actions Frances took as a character defeated her core character traits.
Frances is a really endearing and a really broken individual. There’s a meekness delivered by Chloe Grace Moretz that was honest and a good choice for this character which helped demonize Greta even more. Regardless of this old woman’s size, her intimidation works for the most part because of how delicate Chloe plays Frances. She lost her mom not long ago and has never been able to cope with it, while the relationship with her father only served to further compromise her inner strength. She feels lost in life and in love.
I will say, the production design was great and framed Frances and her loneliness quite well in the way the shots were set up, and the scenes were scored. The cinematography was above average here and helped to make New York feel so empty, matching the wat Frances feels in life.
Where things get uneven, is the directorial and script choice to; 1. Make Frances from Boston and 2. Have her set out on her own to solve the Greta situation. Being from NY I have a natural disposition to folks from Boston. That aside, there’s a hardened toughness and demeanor that’s innate to Bostonians especially those moving to NY. Frances had no ere of Boston on her at all and it’s a nitpick of course but added to the unrooted character choices depicted on screen. Ray Wright and Jordan’s script further defeats Frances character where after local police fail to assist in any way at all, she decides the best way to deal with her stalker is head on, face to face.
Are you crazy?
This woman stood outside your job for hours staring you down. She “stalk texted” your friend at a bar and chased her out on to the street and on a bus while terrorizing you at the same time. This chic looked you in the face; chewed gum in the most disrespectful way imaginable and spit it in your hair.
Nah, no thanks. If the police aint got my back somebody else is going to have to.
Somehow, she thought that was going to come from Greta’s daughter who she told Frances was studying dance in Paris. Only to find out the woman on the other line wants to meet up and it’s not only not Greta’s daughter but a former Girlfriend (Zawe Ashton). Man, I really love Zawe Ashton but her character was wasted and I hope this doesn’t become a habit for getting involved with uneven horror features. She was pretty much injected in the script to for shadow “The Box” in which she ominously theorizes is more than just a figure of speech that Greta’s daughter feared greatly. Would’ve been nice for the screenplay to craft a cleverer way for this information to be detailed to Frances.
Additionally, there’s a strained relation meandering through the film between Frances and her dad than never resolves itself even in the face of peril where she should’ve sought help first because she definitely wasn’t going to get it from her best friend-roommate Erica (Maika Monroe).
She’s not the busty dumb blonde best friend like most other films of the genre but gets close at times just not in all the best ways. she’s not a bad actress but not a great one either. She over delivers on every line of dialogue and it feels often like she’s talking at Frances instead of to her. There’s no arch for her character at all and in a very un-earned way becomes the hero at the end of the film even though all we saw earlier was a selfish girl not too interested in really helping a friend in need.
There’s a noticeable difference in the caliber of performances that fails to elevate the script, it’s very deflating on screen. Huppert’s Greta, firmly at the end of the film embraces full on 9 fingered, ballet dancing gun wielding to classical music, movie monster-dom. Then Erica, unsure of where we are in the context of time has been scowering the train cars of New York hoping to come across a Green Purse that could lead her to Greta’s home instead of the police since; you know, Frances has been missing for at least a month to save her?
The 3rd act felt rushed and unsure of how to end things. The short run time made that evident as this bad boy clocked in at 98 minutes with credits. This movie had the opportunity to explore some unique themes most horror movies lack the fortitude to tackle. It tried but then did nothing with it.
“Greta” is a good time in the theater and surprisingly suspenseful, however uneven. Its an obsession thriller boasting an unforgettable movie villain performance that deserves to be seen but needs another ½ hour of script in the worst way, to flesh out the 3rd act to cover up its shortcomings.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 6/10
Director: Neil Jordan
Writers: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe
Run Time: 98 mins