There are some movies that have a killer pitch, ones where at the end they completely pull the rug from under the audiences’ feet and are built on that (for example Psycho). Others, where it changes the perspective of the narrative, like from the villains perspective or a side character. And then, there are others still that have a fairly standard script by all accounts and through solid directing and acting are able to be a little more.
Greta is a movie about a young girl named Frances McCullen in New York that, out of the kindness of her own heart, returns a handbag to its owner, an elderly woman named Greta. Through this, we learn a few things about the other and see the beginning of a friendship that benefits each member and helps themselves. There’s already a nice contrast by the two of them being very different ages. This could be a perfectly effective comedy or drama if it were not for one night when Frances is having dinner at Greta’s place and discovers a drawer full of identical handbags. From there she quickly gets out as fast and calmly as she can but this is not the end. This is where the real movie begins.
There are some subtle hints as to the deeper nature going on within the rest of the narrative and some lines of dialogue that when they are further investigated throughout the movie are revealed to be some sinister stuff. Though to be honest (maybe because I saw the trailer), I knew most of the things that were going to happen, if you walked into this movie completely unknowing at the start then you might be fooled and the shift will be a true surprise for you. But you don’t judge a painting or a photograph of their content, you judge it on how they are framed and the techniques that went into them.
Chloe Grace Moretz as Frances does a truly solid job. She needs to sell herself as this simple, girl who only means well as well as having her own emotional baggage. But it is in the sequences of panic and fear that she excels, when she is meant to be it is vividly painted on her face crystal clear.
Like Kathy Bates in Misery Isabelle Huppert’s performance as Greta will be the main talking point of this movie and is indeed it’s greatest feat. She is able to shift from one mood to the other, sometimes so very fast and suddenly that it is very scary, and those sudden shifts put you on edge because you know that she can turn within an instant.
Why is it that when someone does something nice in a horror movie they always get punished? I understand it when the bullies and horrible people in these movies get eaten by the monster or get dealt terrible fates but there are those times when a nice person does a selfless thing and that buys them a ticket into a crazy world of pain. I doubt there’ll be any Samaritans emerging from seeing this movie.
Director Neil Jordan has built his career on making niche pieces of work. Like A Company of Wolves and Interview with A Vampire. Very unique premises for movies and dipping their toe a little in the horror genre as well as plenty of serving of the surreal. This is one of his more grounded works, nothing fantastical or supernatural going on, but he is able to crystal clearly frame and passes a scene. And sometimes that’s all you need.
Horror is like any genre really, your needs to press the right button within you. Comedy needs to make you laugh, action is supposed to get the blood pumping, drama to engage you with the characters’ trials and tribulations. Horror is meant to scare you, but all of them are also meant to move you as well, that is what separates the masterful from the mundane. Just having something shocking or unpleasant may be enough for a first showing but not so much after that. I quote Guillermo Del Toro on what he said about horror “Inside every horror movie I love, there is a poem.” I believe that means there needs to be something true within the work, these are two people that find themselves alone in a city and are looking for a connection, but one takes that longing and turns it ugly. But having that solid truth at its centre helps of focus and stabilise the movie as a whole.
This is a meat and potatoes horror movie that is minimal with its production but expert in execution. Its deep truth carries over to the acting, passing, sound and end result. A great movie, probably not, but something that is more than a simple scream.R