Greta (2018)

Directed by Neil Jordan

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Greta is a modern, dark fairytale as well as a stylish stalker-thriller, though maybe those things now go hand in hand.  It’s pulpy, sensational, absurd and all around pretty wonderful, a genre movie with modest ambitions that delivers on what is promised.

It starts bright and beautiful, with two friends, Frances and Erica (Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe) who share a dream apartment in a hip part of New York.  They have things to grumble about, sure, but they mostly amount to Erica guilt tripping Frances into attending this party of that.  By all accounts they are quite fortunate, and their lives are straight out of a magazine spread.

One night Frances finds a forgotten handbag on the subway and returns it to its owner, Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert).  She’s a lonely woman who lives in a quaint cottage buried somewhere on the outskirts of town.  Thankful for Frances’ kindness, she quickly befriends the young woman who seems to appreciate the friendship because of the hole left by her mother’s death the year before.  When Erica brings this up as a reason to suspect Greta’s motivations, Frances is appalled.

Sure enough the fairytale friendship comes to a screeching halt when Frances opens up the wrong cupboard and finds dozens of identical handbags, one with the name of another woman on it.  They are, to her, akin to a serial killer’s trophies, and Frances drops all connection to Greta who only further clings to her.

From there the movie hits all the expected beats of this type of movie, similar to something like Basic Instinct.  The villain, Greta, is pure chaos, wrapped up in a neat bow.  She’s unmistakably psychotic, but she’s smart enough not to break any laws, at least up until a point.  This means that though she stares at Frances from across the street, for hours, the police can do nothing because it’s a public space.

Greta will play these apparent mind games for sometime before, inevitably, she becomes a physical force, attacking and kidnapping Frances as we climb to the movie’s climax.  It’s deranged and conventional but well-executed.

The heart of the movie here is the pseudo mother-daughter relationship between Frances and Greta, though it’s something that feels borrowed to give justifiable character motivation to our protagonist as well as to provide some of Greta’s backstory.  Either way it’s a sinister deconstruction of otherwise ordinary characters, like that of Scotty in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  His films as a whole are filled with Greta-like characters, people who fit into society so as to skirt suspicion but who, when approached, reveal a deeply unsettling core.

Because Greta proves to be such an extreme character, particularly as the danger she poses is dramatically heightened, Frances becomes all the more ‘normal.’  To contrast with that chaos posed by the titular character Frances will become more and more just a blank, neutral canvas.  The details of her character don’t much matter when she’s up against something as outlandish as Greta.  Thus all important characterization is doled out right up front, to lead Frances into this trap, and once she’s inside she’s just a bundle of fear and common sense.  When the door is locked behind you, you want to get out.

So Greta works, I think, because it plays firmly by the rules of its own genre and does so well.  There are rousing moments to pay off the tension and deserved retaliation to combat the insanity of what one character inflicts on another.

Up Next: Apollo 11 (2019), Apollo 13 (1995), Fighting With My Family (2019)

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