Wednesday 6 January 2021

Movie Review: Greta (2018)

A psychological suspense drama, Greta delivers creepy enjoyment despite some clunky moments.

In New York City, Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a twentysomething transplanted Bostonian who recently lost her mother and is enduring a strained relationship with her father. She works as a restaurant server and lives with her friend Erica (Maika Monroe). Frances finds an elegant handbag on the subway system and returns it to its owner, the elderly and lonely piano teacher Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert).

Frances starts a friendship with Greta and learns her husband has passed away and her daughter is away studying music in Paris. The two women establish a warm bond and Frances ignores Erica's warning that she may be getting too emotionally close to Greta as a substitute mother. But when Frances stumbles upon a creepy discovery in the older woman's closet, everything changes.

Starting off as a placid story about loss, loneliness and friendship, Greta gradually works its way towards Hitchcockian suspense bordering on horror territory. Director Neil Jordan co-wrote the script with Ray Wright, and demonstrates patience to introduce Frances, Greta and Erica as well-rounded characters, enhancing the emotional impact once peril is unleashed.

From the moment Frances awakens to evidence of deception, the tension mounts steadily with small acts of menacing harassment pointing to a deeply disturbed psyche. Jordan keeps the settings intimate, Greta's apartment a perfect trinket-laden psychological labyrinth, the subway system tunnels not offering any reprieve. Frances is nudged into a densifying web of trouble, Greta busily weaving an inescapable emotional and physical trap to try and fill the void in her soul.

Despite the delectable mood of dread, Jordan cannot avoid a few clunky moments and implausible character actions. On more than one occasion Frances passes up disengagement opportunities and makes blatantly ill-considered decisions solely designed to prolong the tension and sink her deeper into trouble. And Greta's behaviour unravels rather quickly towards flighty territory, testing internal consistency.

But bolstered by three excellent central performances, Greta survives the bumps. Isabelle Huppert expertly works towards the darkest corners of a twisted mind, and Chloë Grace Moretz finds the right notes as a victim experiencing the hazardous underbelly of innocent benevolence. Maika Monroe is a sharp presence as the trusty friend instinctively aware of the big city's inherent risks. The three leads are supported in small roles by Colm Feore as Frances' father and Stephen Rea as a private investigator.

In surreptitious style, Greta surveys the scope of friendship: from suffocation to salvation.

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