Greta (1 March 2019)

This week’s movie viewed was the newly released Greta, the first horror/thriller I’ve seen this year, though surely not the last. This chilly time of the year always feels to me like a good time to bundle up and get some adrenaline pumping, and Greta is a good choice for that.

The film centers around Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young woman who has recently moved to New York City to live with her friend Erica (Maika Monroe) following the death of her mother the previous year. From the first scene she’s in, she is full of charm and sweetness. Indeed, living in such a large city for the first time, she is portrayed as a bundle of naivety (although the way she acts and is perceived by others, it would seem more fitting that she be from a Midwestern town rather than Boston, which doesn’t strike me as a hub of politeness and meekness). It is the combination of her personality and circumstances that lead her to seek out the owner of the handbag she finds abandoned on a subway, who turns out to be a lonely, widowed piano player who introduces herself as Greta Hideg (the talented French actress Isabelle Huppert). Hideg is not shy about speaking about her loneliness, and particularly vulnerable– she is missing her mother, especially since her father has begun a new relationship, and is trying to adjust to living in a new city. This vulnerability leads her to seek out a friendship with Hideg, who soon is revealed to be less innocent than she seems.

The film chooses to get to the heart of its tension and conflict sooner than its trailers would lead the viewer to believe, and it’s a good choice, allowing the film to showcase the gradually increasing stakes that come with being stalked. Moretz is an incredible actor, and through her, the viewer is able to feel the palpable increasing despair and helplessness her character feels. She makes the events of the film feel real and relevant, in ways that I’m sure will hit close to home for those who have been victims of stalking or the inability to feel safe in their own homes.

Greta doesn’t earn any points for believability (how, for instance, does a widowed piano player afford to live in a nice house in New York City?), and it’s never quite engaging enough for the viewer to be able to suspend disbelief. The script on its own is relatively flat, and doesn’t bring anything new or innovative to the genere. However, the actors give every scene their all, perhaps more than the film deserves, and somehow makes everything work. Going by script alone, for instance, the friendship between Erica and Frances doesn’t seem particularly close or believable, but the actors manage to give the friendship depth, a bond between the two that one is somehow able to take at face value. Likewise, Huppert gives life to an increasingly unsettling villain.

This movie does strike me as guilty of an error seen in far too many horror movies and thrillers, in that it does at times appear to demonize mental illness. Greta Hideg is described as “very ill” and alluded to in fact having some form of mental illness. While untreated mental illness and grief can lead people to be irrational and overly dependent on others, they rarely (if ever) lead people to go to the lengths Greta Hideg does, especially without ever appearing to feel a semblance of remorse. It’s true that this is a movie, but attributing atrocious acts to a character’s mental illness is far too common, and damages those living with mental illnesses, especially considering these individuals and far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. It’s a common trope that cannot go without criticism.

That being said, there is one scene in the film that introduces an interesting character, and I wish the scene had lasted longer to add further depth to the film. It begins to explore the effects of abuse on individuals, and to look at PTSD in an intriguing light, but unfortunately is incredibly brief. It feels as if there is more to be said by that character and in that scene (kept vague for purposes of avoiding spoilers) that is instead glossed over so that the story at hand can unfold, and that’s a shame.

Overall, the movie’s pacing is commendable, one of its highlights. Greta isn’t an incredible film overall, but it’s an enjoyable horror flick, buoyed by a talented cast. Additionally, it’s one that will stick with the viewer a little more than other films of its ilk, whether ot not one realizes it immediately after watching it.