There is no secret January was a less than stellar month at the box office. Glass and The Upside highlighted an otherwise slow month but things started to turn around with a trio of solid, high-grossing adventure flicks in February. Kicking off March, Greta is a well-done cautionary tale of what happens when you’re just too nice…and you accidentally befriend a complete psychopath.
If you haven’t heard about this movie that’s okay, it wasn’t on my radar until fairly recently either. Greta is a lonely older woman who has seen her husband die and child abandon her so she leaves little bread crumbs around New York City (in the form of stylish handbags) in the hopes some good Samaritan may return them and alleviate her crippling loneliness. Well, someone does indeed return one of those bags but gets far more than they bargained for in return.
This was an interesting return to filmmaking for Neil Jordan who hadn’t directed a movie since Byzantium (a methodical and stylized horror film) in 2012. Similarly, Greta is a cerebral and stylistic horror film but it traded in the fantasy elements to focus on the psychological approach. Using a grounded and tangible plot mechanism to steadily generate fear paid off with lingering. Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, there wasn’t time to waste but the Irish filmmaker built his foundation on the right elements of terror. While things get a bit predictable and unbelievable, the overall timbre of the film hit its mark.
In the titular role, Isabelle Huppert showed that her 2017 Oscar nomination for Best Actress was no fluke by delivering a vivid and unsettling but incredibly charismatic performance. The French actress has an innocent way about her but bursts through that facade in an instant with frightening fervor but sadly there is no subtlety. It’s a fairly straightforward role where she’s required to be both disturbing and unassuming at times but her turn as “crazy” was no secret and the trailer gave away too much. She’s got a busy year coming up, so don’t be shocked if you see here again soon.
Playing opposite her, Chloë Grace Moretz starred as Frances “Frankie” McCullen who happens to be that good Samaritan looking to do a kindness for a total stranger. Unfortunately for her, things don’t turn out exactly as she’d hoped. There’s no real reason to suspect Greta is a threat but Frankie is naive beyond reason. Moretz has carved out quite the career for herself since truly breaking onto the scene with Kick-Ass in 2010. Over the past decade, she’s displayed a wide range of diversity in her role selection and found a nice balance between her comedic and dramatic sides. Frankie is very generic but that’s no fault of Moretz and she maxed out what was on the table for the character. She didn’t need the sense of humor this time out but she played the role of the victim well enough to earn the audience’s sympathy.
Really, the only other main character is Frankie’s friend and roommate Erica, played by Maika Monroe. In the early going, she comes across as an elitist, silver-spoon, New York party girl and it’s tough to piece together their friendship. By the midway point, Monroe turns the corner and the pair develop an odd couple type of relationship that works.
Mounting tension is such an important part of this story and it’s wonderfully governed by Javier Navarette’s original music that lulls you into a false sense of security with melodic piano before switching gears to well-layered, sharp and piercing string instruments. Anticipation is one of the most overlooked elements fear but the compositions here are paired very nicely to guide the audience towards it. Just listening to it out of context, as I write this, is unnerving. While this may not go down in history as one of the iconic films scores in horror history, it’s incredibly effective and should get recognized as such.
An interesting premise perhaps oversells things so it’s a bit difficult to pin this one down into a particular category. This film certainly has both mystery and horror elements at play but the driving force behind it rings psychological thriller, so it’s fair to place it right there on the line. It’s fun too if you don’t take it too seriously but that may serve to undermine the terror it’s trying to cultivate. Either way, that’ll help to cast a wider net and attract members of all of those core audiences. If you’re familiar with the horror genre, there’s a fairly predictable path the movie follows but sometimes the journey isn’t all about the destination.
Recommendation: See it for Isabelle Huppert’s amazing performance. Fans of thrillers, horror, and mystery films can all come together and enjoy it. Sure, it does get a bit predictable but it’s a good bit of fun.