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« Blueprints: Standout sequences in Original Screenplay winners | Main | Interview: Christian Petzold on 'Transit', melodramas and the influence of Fassbinder and Ackerman »
Thursday
Feb282019

Review: "Greta"

by Chris Feil

As a palette cleanser for the sour taste left in our mouths from the Oscar season, director Neil Jordan has a chocolate-covered acid truffle to offer. Intergenerational stalker thriller Greta is here to deliver in a pinch, an unpretentious treat with pedigree and casual self-awareness. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an airport paperback in the best possible way, all schlocky upsides without the unrefined downsides.

Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Frances, a young woman in New York City grieving the recent death of her mother. In a chance moment of good samaritanism, Frances finds a handbag bag on the subway and returns it to its rightful owner, Isabelle Huppert’s Greta Hideg. Greta’s abandonment by her own daughter sparks a sudden friendship of complimentary loneliness between the two. But once Frances learns that their meet cute was a calculation on Greta’s part, things quickly escalate into obsession and very ominous hats.

Much of the appeal of this thriller is watching Huppert rip into Greta’s psychotic swings between sweetness and devilishness - and naturally the actress delivers mightily. She is the current reigning Performer As Auteur, and here she subverts multiple archetypal cliches that regularly hound her actress peers. Part of what makes Greta so much fun is that she is having a ball dissecting genre. As she delights in the film’s tense heights, Moretz smartly plays it straight, making the film a successful duet of tones for taste levels both high and low. Because of the leads, the film can have its cake and eat it too.

Exquisitely shot by Seamus McGarvey, Greta is crafted with a formal class that makes it a buffet of prestige junk food for those starving for respectable sleaze. The film comes off as some kind of aspirational horror film, its tongue-in-cheek thrills are as soothing as Frances’ illogically easy and well-furnished big city fantasy. It’s like if DePalma started shooting ads for West Elm.

Jordan keeps things chaste in its actual and suggestive violence, Greta’s whimsical menace barely earning its R rating with most horrors left out of frame. It carries an air of modern day Brothers Grimm fairy tale, its interests rooted in femininity and comforts both aesthetic and emotional. Maika Monroe is also an unassumingly charming presence as Frances’ roommate Erica, a much needed whipsmart contrast to the protagonist straight out of 90s horror archetypes.

Perhaps the film is too expedient to really allow itself to develop its ideas of feminine pastiche as persona, but it is filled with meaning in its textures - the shock of Greta’s sunglasses, Frances’ contrasting basics, the primness of Greta’s handbag that lures her in. “A woman is known by her shoes and her gloves. And we are nothing if not ladies,” Huppert coos after a flash of gruesomeness occurs. Her knowing smile and faux-relaxed posture speakes volumes to the theme, but the film flies by them too fast to linger on them.

Occasionally Greta feels like a somewhat missed opportunity to deliver something really nasty - or more decidedly queer. But mostly it delivers on exactly what it is selling us, with the promise of Huppert to always elevate its intellectual capacity without diminishing its B-movie elation. It’s a camp operetta all the more welcome for its arch tone and slick unpretentiousness. And thank goodness.

Grade: B

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Reader Comments (13)

I saw it on Tuesday. I wish it were longer! Isabelle Huppert is incredible in it. So much fun. She’s not taking herself seriously, but she’s taking Greta very seriously. Brilliant.

February 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Saw this in Toronto and really enjoyed it. I actually ran into Nathaniel at the TIFF press office and told him this film was basically Isabelle Huppert terrorizing Chloë Grace Moretz for 90 minutes (given that he's expressed love for the former and hatred for the latter, that was the way to sell him on it). Yes, it's pure camp, but Neil Jordan knows this and runs with it (and yes, having Huppert in the lead role makes all the difference).

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

Wow! Thanks for the review and the comments. This review in indeed a palate cleanser from the visual uneatables during Oscar night. Plus the great auteur-as-actress is back in the game forever changing the rules of the acting game by elevating the proceedings with her relish and gusto of the role in Greta. I saw the trailer and snippets of scenes online and I can't wait to see this.

Plus Neil Jordan nary makes a false move in my book, even in films others consider as trainwrecks.

This, and Huppert's upcoming Frankie, Blanche-Neige and La Daronne seem awesome showcases for this acting auteur.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

Oh i wish I'd like this as much as you. Great review and all the appeals you mentioned are there but the pacing was so leaden. Save this movie from itself. Shoulda been even shorter.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Worst movie I saw in Toronto. Worthless

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s.

If Chloë Grace Moretz really floored me in something, I guess I'd understand why directors like pairing her with some of the greatest actresses of all time (Binoche, Huppert, Tilda, Pfeiffer, Julianne).

I don't think it's shady or biased to say we haven't...seen that yet...from her.

I never root against an actress changing my mind!

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Very nice review! I let out a very inappropriate cackle after Huppert danced away from a gruesomeness she's committed, that moment and the scene in the trailers where she starts knocking over tables in the restaurant are absolutely worth the price of admission. I agree it could've pushed harder with certain parts of their dynamic, and I still have never understood the case for Moretz as an actress, but god this was a good time. Especially Isabelle.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNick T

Hupperts always great, her range is overplayed, but she's always on.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBeedee

Every review I've read so far for this movie seems to be the same: fun movie, not Oscar-y (geez, let's take a break from categorizing a film as having Oscar chances or not), Isabelle Huppert great as usual. I hope this becomes a box office hit (does the budget allows it? The storyline if not?), so more people get to appreciate the genius of Huppert.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

My fingers are crossed this is at least a moderate hit. I want Izzy to expand her American audience before FRANKIE comes out.

March 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

Missed opportunity for something worthy of repeat viewings.

March 2, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

"very ominous hats" is a phrase that makes me want to see the movie.

March 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

The pacing is leaden, but I laughed with delight at Huppert's performance throughout (the scene where she dances away from the damage is a definite highlight). Someone should cast her in a great grand guignol film a la Baby Jane, it could be an enduring classic.

March 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

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