Genre film has always existed between the ambiguity of conscious use of genre cliches and subversions. Horror films usually advance the expectations of audiences while working to try and find the balance between the familiar and unfamiliar. This directorial process is no easy task, especially in the recent rejuvenation of the horror genre. Neil Jordan’s latest film, “Greta,” relies too heavily of the familiar without adding the unfamiliar to balance the tone of the film.
The horror genre in the 1990s saw a period of rapid change while trying to shed the influence of 1980s and capture the growing home video audience. This decade provided some great straight-to-VHS masterpieces but also some not-so-great theatrical releases. “Greta” plays out much like the latter, and, if not for the excellent performances from Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz, this film would have been quickly forgotten.
The narrative follows Frances McCullen, played by Moretz, who returns the lost purse of the lonely widow, Greta Hideg, played by Huppert. The plot predictably maneuvers its way through the familiar beats of films past and doesn’t provide anything fresh to genre of psychological thrillers. Every aspect of the plot has been done before, so the suspense of each scene comes off flat. The characters are entirely two-dimensional, and their dialogue is adequate, at best.
However, despite the lack of Jordan’s directorial trailblazing, the mere screen presence of legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert demands the audience’s attention through the entirety of the runtime. Huppert, who is best known for her work with Austrian filmmaker, Michael Haneke, and French filmmaker, Claire Denis, plays the beautifully deranged, titular character of the film and certainly justifies the film’s downfalls. Her work in this film is nicely contrasted with the work of the much younger Moretz. Each of the roles may seem disconnected, almost as if they are acting in separate films, but when on-screen together their differences perfectly balance out.
In contrast to the seasoned French actress, Chloe Grace Moretz is a promising American actress. She began her career as a child actress in Hollywood, but, as she has matured as an actress, has begun to shift her work toward more artistically-driven filmmakers. This career shift has allowed her to work alongside some of the best actors, such as Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Tilda Swinton and, now, Isabelle Huppert, as well as directors such as Olivier Assayas and Luca Guadagnino of contemporary cinema. Her work alongside these talented artists is clearly influencing her work, and her role in “Greta” is a prime example. Although significantly restrained by her source material, she flourishes in her role as Frances, and her emotion is the most believable aspect of an otherwise ridiculous film.
Jordan can’t quite find the balance that makes for a great genre film, but his minimalistic approach allows for Huppert and Moretz to maximize their acting abilities. It seems that both of them interpret the overall tone of the film differently, and their acting styles are certainly different, but this creates an entertaining, mixture of established and rising talent. Unfortunately, their first collaboration suffered from behind the camera, so hopefully in the near future they will have the chance to work together with a more competent filmmaker.