Directed by Neil Jordan.
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, and Zawe Ashton.
A young woman befriends a lonely widow who’s harboring a dark and deadly agenda towards her.
Neil Jordan’s Greta pushes a singular anomaly in The Prodigy closer towards 2019 “certifiable trend” territory. Much like Nicholas McCarthy’s “creepy kiddo” bait-and-switch, Jordan’s elastic directorial tonality stretches in so many directions evocative of 90s filmmaking. An era where plots confounded instead of thickened, horrors wove between laughs, and few people knew what the hell was going on (see: “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors). Does this unlikely captive scenario mean to play so ham-fisted at times? Is Jordan striving for comedy? That’s for Neil Jordan to know and audiences to ponder, sometimes to an unclear – distracting – extent.
At other times? What a deliciously despicable manipulation of mad loneliness in a very Dublin-quaint version of New York City (principal photography shot in Ireland for a deceptively cozy Americana feel).
Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a Big Apple transplant sharing her best friend’s “daddy paid for it” apartment (Erica Penn played by Maika Monroe). She’s an all-around “good girl,” albeit sweetly naive if you ask Erica, which leads to Frances’ introduction to an older woman named Greta (Isabelle Huppert). After returning her elder’s lost purse, Frances beings to fill the void of her mother’s death with Greta’s warm companionship. It’s hard feeling alone in a city of millions, but Frances’ good nature is soon challenged when Greta turns out to be much more than initially perceived.
Trigger warning, because Greta does not shy from the paranoia instilled in victims of stalking. As Frances pulls back, Greta’s obsession worsens. Frances is failed by the NYPD and told “just ignore her” as Greta stands planted outside her haughty restaurant workplace for hours, or texts cellphone pictures of Erica drinking at bars, or appears at her apartment foyer. Jordan strips a feeling of safety from his protagonist, seeping jittery fear into Frances’ persona even as she brews her daily cup of coffee. Chloë Grace Moretz plays sedate for long stretches – a detriment to the character given minimal classification beyond victimization – but her best work comes when stricken by lingering pain and anger and general mistrust instilled by the world around her.
In this critic’s opinion, Jordan and co-writer Ray Wright spin a clever trick by forcing a female-on-female chase that’s in no way unique based on how others handle Frances’ complaints. Erica, her cautious younger friend, is the only one who immediately starts waving red flags. Otherwise, Greta – seemingly harmless with her French tongue and grandmotherly traits – is a downplayed threat. Cops, bystanders, the list extends. A man in Greta’s position would immediately be more disbelieved, but she’s unassumed as a message of darkness that fills our world in many forms. Even inside the nurturing European “clutz” whose Nokia phone might as well be a Chinese puzzle box.
Isabelle Huppert is a gale-force of homemaker charms and serial killer undertones, wholly responsible for almost every drop of enthralling discomfort proposed by Greta (sans one *brilliant* elevator trick). Inviting like a plate of piping-fresh windowsill cookies but purposely performative because we’re never to believe everything will end up swimmingly for Frances. Huppert is a master of deadpan-serious outbursts, selling the grotesque as normal and enjoying the proverbial hunt going as far to glide like a ballerina in step with Death. A fantastical faker beyond fucked up as only a broken mother could be.
If only Greta’s tucked-away Brooklyn (?) property walls could talk, the horrifying secrets they’d spill – which, of course, are leaked in time. Jordan’s wobbly tightrope act of balancing Greta and Frances’ very serious conflict with Huppert’s campy scene chewing is a bit hard to pin. The jarring monotony of Greta forcing Frances into abusive piano lessons slammed against an excessively violent baking injury. Commentaries on victims being offered no due justice or protection versus Maika Monroe’s sassy rich-girl yoga millennial brimming with one-liner spunk. Greta wants to terrify, thrill, and get bonkers batshit doing so, but jumbles intent in the process. Maybe a few too many 90s prevalent, “uh, why is she doing that?” moments for audiences as well.
Isolation and solitude can pervert even the soundest minds, but there’s more to Greta than just a bored haggish villain. It might not always align, and shocks may be just that, but there’s an air of reality vs. hallucination that keeps believability in question at all times. Neil Jordan plays this card as a means of assuring tension, even if it won’t work for all consumers (based on post-screening feedback). Nevertheless, Isabelle Huppert gets away with murder in New York City enough times to assure an audaciously unhinged slice of life which is exactly what you’re here to see. Downright diabolical in the right bursts.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).