A new film from acclaimed director Neil Jordan, starring living legend Isabelle Huppert and the always at least fascinating Chloë Grace Moretz. That sounds like a pretty juicy prospect, doesn’t it? Well, with ‘Greta’, this unexpected mix becomes a reality. But what is ‘Greta’? Is it a high class drama, the kind we expect from Huppert? Is it a daring indie, the kind we expect from Moretz?
No. ‘Greta’ is neither of those things. That’s too chill for ‘Greta’. And this film? This film has no chill whatsoever. This film is bonkers.
When Francis (Moretz, ‘Suspiria’, ‘Kick-Ass’ franchise) finds a handbag left on a New York subway train, she does the right thing and returns it to its owner, a lonely but sophisticated French woman named Greta Hideg (Huppert, ‘Elle’, ‘Happy End’). They form a connection and start to become friends, but very soon Francis begins to suspect that Greta’s intentions may not be so innocent.
Let’s just get this out of the way - ‘Greta’ is absolute trash, a throwback to when thrillers were nasty, gnarly and nuts. The dialogue is stilted, the narrative twists are preposterous and there’s not an ounce of subtlety in it. So what on earth are talents of the calibre of Neil Jordan, Chloë Grace Moretz, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and Isabelle friggin’ Huppert doing making something that’s essentially a B-grade pseduo-psychological thriller? Having the time of their lives, obviously, because even though ‘Greta’ is in no way a great film, it’s sure as hell a fun one. The screenplay co-written by Jordan and Ray Wright is a real clunker, full of gaping plot holes and dialogue as chewy and tough as stale beef jerky, but in execution, everyone involved totally embraces the melodrama and spins it into something between a soap opera and a Grand Guignol.
SWITCH: 'GRETA' TRAILER
In fact, the screenplay may be the only real negative in this whole film. It’s a pretty sizeable one, and a stronger one would have made a more satisfying film, but it’s hard to really complain when the result is such a blast. ‘Greta’ is high camp, high melodrama, histrionic to a fault, unexpectedly nasty in all the right ways, and plays entirely at a 10 until it suddenly erupts into a 50. It manages to weave in some subtext about the divide between generations and the crippling psychological effects of loneliness in a big city, but it’s also about one of the greatest actors on the face of the planet essentially play Annie Wilkes’ crazy European cousin in fabulous hats and a brown bob.
Jordan intrinsically understands the operatic nature of ‘Greta’, and so his execution is likewise ridiculous and unexpectedly sumptuous. The film is at its best where the dialogue falls away and Jordan is able to build moments of exquisite tension, a series of disquieting images sliced together wickedly by editor Nick Emerson and shot with almost Hitchcocknian finesse by McGarvey. The thundering issues with the dialogue and narrative are embraced rather than ignored, with the film giving you just as much permission to laugh with it as much as be thrilled by it. This pays off in spades as the film goes on, moving from an affected series of dramatic glances into genuine terror and finally into full-blown and totally earned operatic violence. In fact, it only becomes clear why ‘Greta’ feels like such an odd duck of a film once you reach the third act and its oddness is justified. A lot of this comes down to Jordan’s unique skills as a director, being one of the few directors proficient with gothic melodrama and horror. There might be wild inconsistencies in character and narrative in ‘Greta’, but the tone is relatively watertight, and for a film that’s so much about style and mood, that ends up being far more important.
‘Greta’ is high camp, high melodrama, histrionic to a fault, unexpectedly nasty in all the right ways, and plays entirely at a 10 until it suddenly erupts into a 50.
Integral to that are the three central performances, and much like the film, it’s only once you reach the third act where the careful work of Huppert, Moretz and Maika Monroe (who plays Francis’ super-rich housemate Erica) becomes apparent. Neither Moretz or Monroe can really get around how horrid the dialogue is, and the way Moretz really pitches for the wholesome with Francis is initially a little bland, but you realise very soon that they’re essentially being asked to play cyphers of characters (I have to admit, I didn’t even know Francis was her name until half an hour in), and rather than this being a negative, it contributes nicely to the fake facade of the whole affair.
Huppert is another beast entirely. To begin with, she feels like she has one foot in the film and one foot out, and you start to wonder what on earth an actor of her magnitude is doing in this nonsense. As it enters its second act though, and Greta goes from odd to unhinged to downright psychotic, you see exactly why she’s here: to go "fuck it" and dance around being a deranged nasty nutcase terrorising young women and still look classy as hell in the process. Truth be told, Huppert is far too sophisticated and stunning to be believable as a lonely recluse, and her little isolated flat is a bit too fancy and French for a woman who doesn’t seem to have a job or any form of income and living in New York, but when she’s this camp and this vicious, who cares! Greta Hideg is the horror icon every gay man has dreamed of, dressed to kill with the emotional pyrotechnics of Glenn Close in ‘Fatal Attraction’ and the blood-curdling inventiveness of Kathy Bates in ‘Misery’.
Honestly, I hope this is the beginning of a ‘Greta’ horror franchise. I want to see more of Huppert leaving handbags on public transport for unsuspecting your girls so she can entrap them and be their crazy pseudo-mummy. I want sequels and I want prequels. They don’t even have to be good. Hell, this one isn’t! But as long as they are a bizarre and unapologetically crazy, I’d happily watch Isabelle Huppert as Greta Hideg dance around with her weapons of choice to a bit of Chopin any day. I am obsessed. "Is it palatable?" will now be in my lexicon forever. I will need this entire film GIF’ed for my use in any situation. For half an hour afterwards, my friend and I were still screaming and crying with laughter thinking about all the nuts shit we had seen and heard in this strange, strange film. I really can’t adequately put this one into words. Just go and see it. I wish you as fabulous an evening of fun as I had with it.