Cinema Dispatch: Greta

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Greta and all the images you see in this review are owned by Focus Features

Directed by Neil Jordan

Is it just me, or are we about to get a tidal wave of horror movies?  Sure, we’ve already had stuff like Escape Room and The Prodigy wasting space at the multiplex, but we’re just coming off of Happy Death Day 2U before getting this film, and we’ve still got Us and Pet Semetary coming out soon, not to mention that EVIL Superman movie and the one where Octavia Spencer kills a bunch of bratty teenagers just over the horizon!  Can this movie about the perils of making friends with Isabelle Huppert prove to be the standout horror movie in an already crowded field, or will this be lost in the shuffle like so many other movies trying to grab onto this popular (and affordable) genre?  Let’s find out!!

Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) is your typical millennial living in the city with her roommate Erica (Maik Monroe) and one day she finds a purse all by its lonesome that she decides to return it to its owner because she’s such a nice person!  Said purse is owned by Great (Isabelle Huppert) who lives alone and spends her time playing the piano to drown out the neighbors who always seem to be banging on her walls, and the two become quick friends.  Maybe they have genuine interests or maybe their using each other to fill a hole they have in their lives (Frances’s mother recently died and Great’s daughter is supposedly off in France), but whatever the case may be they both seem to be much more happy now that they’ve got each other as friends!  Now that sounds like a fun movie on its own, but as it turns out Greta is hiding something as Frances finds a half dozen of the same purse in her one of Greta’s cupboards which means she DIDN’T lose her purse and intentionally left it for someone to find!  Why would she do that!?  Well the correct answer is WHO CARES because the answer is probably not a good one and so Frances decides to bail and cut all contact with Greta.  Not an easy task as it turns out as she won’t stop calling her apartment, leaving lengthy voicemails, and even showing up at her place of work to try and stay in touch with her.  With the police unable (or possibly unwilling) to help Frances out, she decides to take matters into her own hands and find out more about Greta which leads to even more mysteries and even a few answers she may not like.  Can Frances find a way to extract Greta from her life without putting herself or her loved ones in danger?  What is Greta really after, and just how far will she go to get it?  Did you know Isabelle Huppert was supposed to be in the Suspiria remake back when David Gordon Green was supposed to direct it?  Maybe THAT’S what this is all about!!

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“Did you put in a good word for me, Chloë?”     “Yeah… of course!”     “YOU LIAR!!”

Holy heck, was THIS a surprisingly good movie!  I mean I guess I shouldn’t be TOO surprised since they managed to get Isabelle Huppert, but even then there’s a history of great actors doing cheap horror films for paychecks (*cough* Winchester *cough* The Rite *cough*) and the premise itself isn’t all that original or awe inspiring.  I thought I would like it just fine like so many other PG-13 horror thrillers and would forget about it a few months down the road, but what we got instead is one of the better examples of this particular type of film.  It’s no masterpiece and it certainly isn’t aiming to be a bone chilling and cerebral film for ADULTS like all those movies I hate (*cough* Hereditary *cough* Mother *cough*), but for the resources it had, the story it wanted to tell, and the audience it was going for, I think they managed to use all of them to their full potential in ways that few movies in ANY genre have managed to do.  Even if you’re sick to death of modern horror movie clichés and how the Blumhouse style is the end all and be all of mainstream horror, you’ll still probably find something to like in here which in and of itself is quite an accomplishment!

 

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“Hmm!  Classy, but with a hint of camp!  I like it!”

As I had alluded to, this definitely FEELS like a Blumhouse production (it’s not actually one, but they’re the leader everyone else is following right now) only bumped up a few notches in terms of skill and craft.  The camera work is better, the locations are well designed, and they have a few brilliantly staged shots that ANYONE could do with a similar budget yet lesser films fail to have the foresight and imagination to do so.  However, there is still an upper limit to all of this as it doesn’t have the auteur sensibilities of say Get Out or the scope and backing of IT to make it feel like a grand spectacle.  The big scene in the restaurant that’s in all the trailers to me felt like something out of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, but to even try and compare this to that would be utterly laughable as there’s no way a PG-13 studio thriller could have the grandiosity and depth of vision as Peter Greenaway’s NC-17 masterpiece.  Perhaps that’s a detriment to a certain extent.  While movies I consider better than this like Get Out are carving NEW paths in the horror genre, the influences here are decidedly old which therefore invites comparisons to movies it can’t hope to compete with for a variety of reasons.  It’s a modern production to be sure and with modern horror sensibilities as well as the general format that movies aiming for box office success have to deal with nowadays which makes it feel a bit like a movie that should have gone to a streaming service where conventionality is less necessary, but we have the film that we have and for the most part the production and direction is spot on in creating that creeping sense of dread that’s not easy to pull off without blowing up the budget or going straight for an R rating.

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“Code Rabbit!  I repeat, Code Rabbit!!”     “WHY DID YOU LET HER IN HERE!?”

As far as the story it’s a lot of what you’d expect from a stalker movie, albeit it done with a lot better than these things usually go.  First and foremost, the acting is top notch as both Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz give fantastic performances playing wildly different characters and are given plenty of opportunities to flesh them out.  Huppert does a great job of convincing you of how genuine she is (both the good and bad about her) that it’s seriously jarring and frightening how much she switches gears and becomes a cold and calculating monster and Moretz is doing something similar in that she’s also putting on a false impression of herself; albeit hers is far less sinister and much more relatable as she’s simply guarding herself from what she hasn’t had enough time to deal with.  The relationship they develop in the first act is actually quite charming which shows how desperate Moretz is to find someone she can poor all her unresolved feelings into and how cruelly calculating Huppert is to so effortlessly exploit them.  Now I’m sure someone else who understands these situations in depth can give a better analysis here, but I do think the film does a great job of portraying the mental state and the day to day anguish of having someone stalk you; especially in doing so without actual bloodshed or over the top tactics; putting it in stark contrast with films like The Perfect Guy (a movie most of you have forgot existed) which had an issue with its tone and almost super villain levels of terror.  It’s much more grounded here and stays terrifying by better understanding the real world implications of these situations and the fear that it creates in its victims; or at least presumably creates as I’m no expert on this.  I’ll touch on this more in a bit, but the entire middle act of the movie is almost a fantastic film in its own right and didn’t even need the third act to justify its existence as a taught thriller had they stayed with this approach to the subject matter, but even when things get more ludicrous in the third act, it’s still a solid finale to the movie and ends things on a very satisfying note; albeit one that’s kinda silly.

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“Did you learn your lesson yet?”     “What lesson!?  You asked me the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow and then locked me in here!”     “THAT’S IT!  BACK IN THE BOX!”

I really only have two problems with this movie and they are relatively minor considering how well everything else is done.  We’ll get the easy one out of the way first which I guess you could call a continuity error in the third act.  I won’t spoil it, but what happens at the end of this movie goes on for A LOT longer than it should considering what information should have been readily available to anyone (especially the cops) this late in the game.  It’s easy to look at a horror film and ask why a character ran up the stairs instead of out the door or any sort of micromanaging of the story turns, but I think this one is so obvious to even the most casual of views and makes everyone else who ISN’T directly in danger and having to make snap decisions look woefully incompetent.  It’s a minor point though because that third act IS still pretty great, but it also kind of leads into my other issue which feels less like a complaint and more of a suggestion.  Again, this movie is REALLY good so I’m kind of stretching here.  Towards the end of the second act there comes a point where the movie SEEMS to be going in a less… let’s say LITERAL direction and is using constant and escalating fake out dream sequences in a way that… is actually kind of brilliant!  Everyone bemoans the fake out dream sequence for being a cheap way to throw an unrelated jump scare into a part of the movie that couldn’t come up with one naturally, but for a few minutes here it seems like they’re using it as a way of conveying the trauma of having a stalker which I don’t recall ANY other movie doing before. I mean sure, the POINT of a fake out dream sequence (at least when they have one) is to convey that the character has something to fear, but with so much of this movie being about the real world terrors of having someone who won’t leave you alone, they carry a certain amount of significance here that’s lacking in other films!  THAT’S BRILLIANT!!  Now again, the third act is still really good, but it feels like an opportunity was missed to do something different instead of just a really solid version of stuff we’ve seen before.  I’ll admit that I haven’t seen all the horror movies out there and I can certainly name a few that are very much from a female perspective (Alien, The Babadook, even my loathed Hereditary) including this one, but it STILL feels like they could have gone just a bit more thoughtful than visceral as we got to the end of this story.

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I’m either being too harsh on a movie that exceeds expectations or too soft on a run of the mill horror film that shines a bit brighter than most, and I’m still not sure which it is.  In any case, the movie comes out to pretty good if not overwhelmingly spectacular and I still recommend checking it out if you have the chance.  Heck, Captain Marvel isn’t out YET so why not see this before the theaters get crowded and you have to wait twenty minutes in the popcorn line?  Seriously, releasing this a week before a Marvel movie?  You’d think studios with GOOD films would release them where they won’t get trampled and save the crap like The Prodigy for just this very occasion!

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