Movies

What Went Right With… Greta (2018)?

A review of Neil Jordan thriller Greta

Greta is an underrated psychological thriller directed by Neil Jordan. The film which stars Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Maika Monroe, received lots of overly-critical reviews when it was released but I found it to be highly entertaining. In case you don’t know, Greta is about a young waiter named Frances (Moretz) who finds an unattended and seemingly lost handbag in the subway. Frances goes through the bag, finds some I.D. and proceeds to return it to the owner; a lonely widow named Greta (Huppert) whom she befriends. What begins as an innocent relationship between the two women then slowly escalates into a tale of obsession, with Greta stalking and threatening Frances, and much, much worse…

Like many underrated movies, Greta was labelled a “B-Movie” by some critics which is a description you’ll regularly see when a film isn’t either a historical biopic or a mega-budget summer blockbuster. The main criticism against this film was the fact that it felt “old school”, and because it was directed by Neil Jordan, who’s biggest filmic successes was back in the day, Greta was somehow automatically a contrived, late-twentieth century thriller. It’s strange that certain plots or genres are called “old”. Very similar to Boom Bap Hip-Hop, I’ll never understand why particular styles are seen as traditional when surely every genre and sub-genre is by definition from the past. Nothing is new, and just because a film is littered with CGI or is overly-stylised, it doesn’t make it current in any meaningful way. Sure, if you enjoy female-led thrillers from the 1980s and 1990s such as Suspect, Sleeping With The Enemy, and Blue Steel, Greta is a film for you but that’s not a bad thing. And since there’s so little movie experiences with an entirely-female cast, not to mention so few original thrillers in the present day, surely this is something to be congratulated?

SPOILERS AHEAD

All that being said, there are a few issues here and there. Firstly, which twenty-somethings wouldn’t just block an annoying caller rather than listening intently to every voice message or resorting to “unplugging the [landline] phone”? Secondly, there’s a drug-induced dream-esque scene which disrupts the linear flow of the film. We also have a slight anticlimax involving a toy-chest and some piano lessons, which like The Vanishing, isn’t the worst imaginable end to being kidnapped (at least from the viewer’s perspective).

The best part of Greta is the cast who form a triumvirate, with Huppert, Moretz, and Monroe all being essential to the unfolding story. I’ve always thought that Monroe was a cool person (maybe it’s something to do with her being a kiteboarder) but being cool means she has a very distinctive walk which in turn puts the kibosh on any potential twists (cough, cough).

The main reason to watch Greta is for Greta herself; Isabelle Huppert. From La Cérémonie to Elle, Huppert has been brilliant in lots of drama/thrillers and this movie is no different. Greta’s veiled threat involving chewing gum and her sudden outburst in Hungarian at Frances’ restaurant makes the hairs in the back of your neck stand up. Greta isn’t a caricatured villain, in fact she’s quite likeable in an anti-hero kind of way and Isabelle’s subtle yet outstanding performance surely allays any shortcomings critics saw in the film’s narrative or tone?

From Cape Fear to Jagged Edge, in the majority of thrillers (and horror-thrillers) women are mere victims of psychotic men or worse still; they need to be saved by a heroic male lead. Even when on the odd occasion, a female actor is top billed (I Know What You Did Last Summer) it doesn’t take long before they’re screaming as their boyfriend saves them. This is all up-ended in Greta but not in a Black Christmas remake kind of way. The plot here feels organic rather than forced and almost everything about the story feels believable and set in the real world which in turn adds to the thrills felt as an audience member.

In Hollywood films, the cliché of a psychopathic or psychotic woman consists of her mental state being intertwined with sex or sexual revenge (Sea Of Love, Play Misty For Me, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct). That’s why Greta is such a landmark film. The antagonist is played by a fantastic actor in her sixties which thanks to a sexist and ageist Hollywood is a rarity. This is an achievement in itself but the protagonist is a woman too, and when she finds herself in peril it’s another woman, her best friend, who saves the day not her hubby or hubby-to-be (of which there are none). An almost entirely female-led film doesn’t happen that often and it happens even less in the thriller genre, but a thriller where the three main characters are all women but the target audience is everyone from teens to octogenarians, women and men, gay and straight; how often do you see that? So if you’re sick of the over-saturation of comic book movies, wannabe high-concept blockbusters, and so-called Oscar-worthy dramas with everyone shouting or blubbering as they vie for a gold statue, watch Greta. It’s a simple and honest film that’s there to thrill and entertain and it succeeds in both aspects.

If you’re hankering for subtext, you could see this film as a comment on the older generation; they’re not all sweet or slow-witted, doddering around looking confused when confronted with modern technology. Old folk can be tech-savvy and they can also be evil and psychotic, because there’s lots of psychos around and they all inevitably grow old. Greta should also dissuade people from using fingerprint logins, and hey, if you go away with nothing else, you’ll at least want to seek out a recipe for mézeskalács.

Bag Lady.

Writing: 6/10

Directing: 6/10

Acting: 8/10

Overall: 8/10

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