TIFF 2018: 'Greta'

Chloë Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe in Greta (2018) (© Widow Movie, LLC and Showbox / source: IMDB)

Neil Jordan's latest thriller, Greta, doesn't make sense -- but it's a wild ride.

I don't want to be the person who nitpicks the logistics in a thriller, but Neil Jordan's latest movie, Greta, has backed me into a corner. The film, which had its world premiere at TIFF 2018, follows a 20-something waitress named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) as she does what she thinks is a good deed by returning a lost handbag to a lonely, middle-aged woman named Greta (Isabelle Huppert). The two strike up what seems to be a genuine friendship that has some familial overtones — Greta is estranged from her adult daughter, and Frances has recently lost her mother — but it quickly turns sour, leading to the life and death kidnapping situation depicted in the stills.

Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz (© Widow Movie, LLC and Showbox / source: IMDB)

It's not clear how much of the story will be revealed by the film's trailer. I went into it knowing that, at the very least, Chloë Grace Moretz would be chained to a bed in a creepy-looking room, and I do wonder how I might have reacted if I hadn't known that from the beginning. There's a leisurely pace in the first half of the film, as Frances and Greta form their friendship and, even when things take a negative turn, it's possible to believe at first that Greta still means well.

Unfortunately, Frances eventually discovers that she's one in a long line of women lured to Greta's house under false pretenses. When she tries to back away from the relationship, Greta goes berserk and starts stalking and harassing her, sending hundreds of texts in a row, and showing up at the restaurant where Frances works. When that doesn't succeed in winning Frances back, she starts openly threatening Frances and her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe). The two friends try to protect each other, but it feels like it's only a matter of time before Greta does something deadly.

Greta is, at turns, suspenseful, frightening, perplexing, and surprisingly uplifting. The audience I saw it with started clapping and cheering at one point. There's a narrative twist that I've never seen before, and there's a moment of violence that made my jaw drop. It's also a genuine pleasure to watch Huppert sink into her role. Greta is a villain's villain in that, once she gives up any pretense of being a kindly middle-aged lady, she becomes so ghastly — and expressively so — that it's both terrible and amazing. It's also the kind of part that female actors don't usually get to play, so there's a novelty to seeing it on screen. There's very little attempt to humanize her or to make us empathize with her. The explanation we get for her behavior is very straightforward: like many serial killers, she feels a strong sense of entitlement — to have somebody ease her loneliness, to receive assurance that she was a good mother, to receive the attention and adoration she thinks she deserves. She will gladly trample over anybody else's rights to get what she wants; it's that simple.

The simplicity of the film — serial killers gotta serial kill — means that I have nowhere to put my attention besides the plot details on screen. I can't analyze the themes or the message or what the movie has to say about mother-daughter relationships because the movie is deliberately not offering those things. So please understand that it's on Greta's own terms when I tell you that, no matter how entertaining it is, the plot usually doesn't make sense.

The biggest vortex of incomprehensible nonsense surrounds the need to get the New York City Police Department out of the way. There are multiple points in the film (and even points before the events of the film) where quickly telling the police what was going on could have led to an arrest. Greta seems to know that and burns some energy in the first half explaining why the police can't do anything. It's a sequence in which the police give out wrong information about the stalking laws in New York but, more importantly, it's meant to convince us that, because the police can't intervene when Greta's watching Frances through a window, they also can't intervene when she makes blatant threats or becomes the most obvious suspect in a major crime.

There's also some confusion about what happened to Greta's previous victims, and how on earth her method for luring them to her is even successful.

Despite what I just said, the unlikeliness of the whole situation in Greta isn't just important because there's so little else to hook into — it's also because a thriller gets a lot less thrilling and the scares get a lot less scary when the villain's evil plot succeeds because she's incredibly lucky rather than because she came up with a really smart plan.

Even though it may be hard to suspend disbelief, Greta is a wild ride and an example of a modern-day thriller that not only allows its characters to use their cell phones, but dramatizes how a cell phone can be used as a tool to terrorize someone. It was bought by Focus Features during the festival and is expected to be released in 2019.





Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."


'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.


It's a Helluva of a World in Alain Corneau's 'Série Noire'

Alain Corneau's Série Noire is like a documentary of squalid desperation, albeit a slightly heightened and sardonic one.


The 15 Best Americana Albums of 2015

From the old guard reaffirming its status to upstarts asserting their prowess, personal tales voiced by true artists connected on an emotional level in the best Americana music of 2015.


Dizzy's Katie Munshaw Keeps Home Fires Burning with 'The Sun and Her Scorch'

In a world turned upside down, it might be the perfect time to take a new album spin with Canadian dream-pop band Dizzy and lead singer-songwriter Katie Munshaw, who supplies enough emotional electricity to jump-start a broken heart.


Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers Bring Summery Highlife to 'Ozobia Special'

Summery synths bring highlife of the 1980s on a reissue of Nkem Njoku and Ozzobia Brothers' innovative Ozobia Special.


'The Upward Spiral' Is Nicolas Bougaïeff's Layered and Unique Approach to Techno

On his debut album for Mute, Berlin-based producer Nicolas Bougaïeff applies meticulous care and a deft, trained ear to each track, and the results are marvelous.


How BTS Always Leave You Wanting More

K-pop boy band BTS are masterful at creating a separation between their public personas and their private lives. This mythology leaves a void that fans willingly fill.


The Psychedelic Furs' 'Made of Rain' Is Their First Album in Nearly 30 Years

The first album in three decades from the Psychedelic Furs beats expectations just one track in with "The Boy That Invented Rock and Roll".


Fontaines D.C. Abandon the Familiar on 'A Hero's Death'

Fontaines D.C.'s A Hero's Death is the follow-up to the acclaimed Dogrel, and it features some of their best work -- alongside some of their most generic.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.