From the mindset of the writer and director who brought you Interview with the Vampire and The Crying Game, there’s no sugar-coating the utter absurdity that Neil Jordan’s Greta operates. Forget Jordan Peele’s Us or Ari Aster’s Hereditary – contemporary films which have pushed the psychological and artistic boundaries in cinema. Greta’s spirit animal is a campy throwback to the 80s and 90s.
For a film that has all the hallmarks of a serious psychological thriller and horror film rolled into one, Greta becomes an unintentional comedy (which to give it some credit, I haven’t laughed this hard since Game Night). Prime for a Saturday Night Live parody, Greta is one of those films where trying to understand its shifting tonality is chucked out the window.
That’s primarily down to its lead star Isabelle Huppert, with a performance that is perfectly deranged, conjured up in the mystical dark arts where she can randomly appear and disappear (at will) as she stalks! She’s capable of supernatural strength, shaking off drug induced scenarios. She even does a happy, merry dance as she syringes Brian Cody (not on screen long enough Stephen Rea). Whether Neil Jordan’s ultimate intention was just an excuse to work with the legendary actress (including turning New York City – but filmed in Ireland – into a dreamlike Parisian love letter, inspired by French-noir cinema in its direction and soundtrack), she definitely makes the most of it, knowing exactly what she signed up for.
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By Huppert’s standards, it’s not too dissimilar from the type of roles we’ve come to expect in her illustrious career of complex female characters in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle or Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher for example. But Greta opts to drop the ‘complexity’ part to embrace the ‘straight-up’ psychopath persona. It’s not the greatest characterisation (and certainly not an advocate on mental health), but from a guilty pleasure standpoint, you enjoy how comfortable she is at indulging in the creepy lunacy, ramped up to caricature levels, capable of luring her potential victims to her home like a life-sized Venus fly trap. After its slow and meandering start where her executed trap is activated by Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), beginning her tale of obsessive befriending, you’re patiently waiting for that madness to kick into gear.
Highly entertaining as that can be, Greta is severely let down by its jumbled script and an overwhelming sense of familiarity. Besides the obvious public service announcement about suspicious packages and what you should NOT do with them, Jordan’s misfired take is not at all sophisticated. Whereas of late other films have daringly pushed the buttons of its subject matter, Jordan reduces his film to a range of hand-holding exposition and novelty jump scares. You’ve seen this type of film countless times, heavily relying on generic and formulaic safeness that doesn’t add anything new to the genre. Horror films tend to escape the criticisms around logic (because you wouldn’t have a movie without it), but Greta crumbles under the weight of its design of ‘characters doing dumb things’. The only thing holding this film together is that ‘Huppert masterstroke’ where she takes an excessive delight in dialling up the eccentricity.
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With a record like Jordan’s, the surprising element is that lack of substance. As vessels for chaos and predictability, it’s a superficial character representation, devoid of any engaging qualities to keep the momentum going. We’re meant to identify with Frances on her internal struggles and naivety, but its limiting script and roll-your-eyes dialogue often finds itself in an uninspired lull between scenes. Chloë Grace Moretz excels on the physicality, working well with Huppert’s increased disillusionment, but Greta frantically jumps from one twist to another before turning into a last-minute pseudo-feminist empowerment movie that plays on the ‘final girl’ trope.
But bizarrely, the absence of empathy is notable. In this fantastical world, Greta’s motivations cross the line from innocence to harassment to eventual abduction and torture. The system fails. The police don’t care. A restaurant owner holds a higher value about Greta’s dinner reservation and the rights of a psychopath than the overall wellbeing of his employee. Greta’s past is subsequently ignored, failing to connect the dots or heed any of the warning signs. If Greta is trying to initiate a social dialogue about human beings and the self-obsessed world we’re living in, then it is lost in its overall narrative (along with grief, isolation and subsequent mommy/daughter issues).
Somewhere in its ninety-eight minute-runtime there’s an outstanding film sparked by good intentions, but it’s buried underneath some diabolical plotting. As elegantly trashy it is, maybe that’s the whole point. It doesn’t pretend to be a masterpiece, but as the laughter comes in waves, Huppert is the real winner. At least as she keeps it interesting.