With Ma (2019) coming out recently and Hank giving that a review, I thought I would review a piece that is similar in concept and tone – Greta (2019). To be fair, I haven’t heard much about this film and it was out of theaters before I got a chance to check it out, so when it came to VOD I jumped at the chance to watch it and talk about it with everyone at W2R!
The story is pretty simple: A young woman (Chloë Grace Moretz) befriends a lonely widow (Isabelle Huppert) who may be more sinister than she first appears.
I like this concept because it is (conceivably) a limited-actor, character-driven horror and those can be done on a low budget with potentially large returns.
So, did Greta capitalize on the concept?
We open with Frances (Moretz) on the train finding a purse that has been left on a seat and taking it home before she can return it to the owner where she is teased by her friend about her kindness, but insists that this is what people do where “she comes from”.
I like it when the protagonist’s “Save the Cat” moment plays into the plot and, in this case, is our literal catalyst for the story. As opposed to the “Save the Cat” moment in Deadpool which is an almost literal interpretation of the concept showing Wade Wilson doing something “nice” for someone and then we move into our main plot. That just feels forced and like one of those video game side-quests that everyone hates but must complete anyway to advance the main story.
Also, Maika Monroe is in this (she was great in It Follows and Tau) playing the best friend character which is a cool bit of stunt casting, but I wish her character was given more to do.
Now, I won’t spoil anything, but in the final act she is given a bit more to do and I really think this is partially why she would have taken this role. It is also nice to see the “friend” character do a bit more than just die (which is typical for this type of horror) and actually get a cool moment.
Frances returns the purse to Greta (Huppert) who invites her inside for a cup of coffee as a thank you.
Of course, the audience – knowing what this story is about – is screaming “Don’t take the coffee!” but we also know that she is going to take the invite… because there would be no movie otherwise.
Frances and Greta talk about Greta’s sad and lonely life and so Frances decides to be her friend.
I did like that they added the plot point of Frances having recently lost her mother and Greta having lost her husband. It gives them more reason to connect and something tangible for them to share.
We then go to Greta’s POV and see that she is Facebook stalking Frances.
I actually didn’t need this scene – I feel like we could have gotten the idea if Frances had received a “Friend Request” from Greta or something, but showing Greta creeping on Frances kind of lowers the impact and makes it obvious that there is something wrong with Greta.
Now, of course we know that there is, as that is what the trailer promised, but I think that it would have been more effective to slowly build the tension and the paranoia by staying in Frances’ POV – maybe even give a hint that Frances was a little unstable herself.
When Frances goes over to Greta’s house for dinner, she opens a cabinet to find… lots of identical purses! With Greta’s name on all of them.
Now, the issue for me here is: why would Greta leave these out so plainly? Did she want Frances to find them? I mean, Greta is the one who asked Frances to look in the cabinets for candles, so this seems forced, though I like the story beat of Frances finding the purses.
I also like that the door is locked when Frances tries to leave – meaning that she is trapped.
However, that is resolved pretty quickly and I feel it could have been played up more.
Greta then begins calling and harassing Frances via texts, calls, etc. and then showing up at her work.
The zero to sixty change of a nice older woman who may be a bit lonely to a complete stalker is very abrupt and I think a little more time to flesh it out and let this story unfold naturally would have worked in this film’s favor.
At work, Frances confronts Greta about the purses, but doesn’t let her explain, just telling her to leave and never return.
Greta calls and says that she is so lonely and only did the thing with the purse because she is lost and, if Frances doesn’t call her back or talk to her, Greta may do something drastic.
This is a classic manipulation technique from a toxic relationship, but again, it felt very abrupt and intense. I don’t fault the idea, but I fault the pacing and structure.
The cops are not helpful – even though Frances is clearly being stalked – they just say “There’s nothing we can do.” I mean, come on, this is not how they would react if given the preponderance of evidence (calls, witness testimony, texts, social media messages, etc.) that this young woman was being harassed by Greta.
So, once Frances has called the cops, Greta shows up at her apartment and threatens her. Then the cops say that they can apply for a restraining order, but it will take months.
It would actually be more interesting if Frances was able to get a restraining order and/or some form of protection, but Greta still found a way to come at her. Just something to think about when crafting your own story: how to make the most of each scene or story beat.
Then, Frances thinks that the dog she helped Greta get is potentially begin mistreated (with no evidence of this, mind you) and steals her mail. She finds Greta’s daughter’s phone number and leaves her a message.
Next, Frances decides to stay home alone, even though there is someone stalking her (who has literally been to her apartment before). She gets a call from her dad – who has already moved on after her mother’s death – which doesn’t really lead anywhere other than to show why Frances is so alone.
She gets creepy stalker pictures of her friend out at a bar and panics as it seems like Greta is going to do something bad to her friend.
This is where it gets pretty stupid – Frances’ friend sneaks out of the back of the club into a dark alleyway even though Frances called her and told her that there is a stalker who is after her.
Oh, and then – instead of calling the police – Frances decides to go out and meet her friend in the middle of the night which nearly gets her friend run over. By the way, this never leads anywhere and both Frances and her friend are just fine.
The next morning, Frances goes to meet Greta’s daughter – well, not actually her daughter, but the daughter’s girlfriend who tells Frances that Greta’s daughter killed herself. Apparently, Greta abused her daughter frequently and the trauma was too much for her.
Then Greta shows up at Frances’ place of work and Frances’ boss forces her to serve Greta, even though Frances has told him that she is being stalked by Greta and Greta is obsessive and dangerous.
This is another plot point that just doesn’t feel realistic or earned. If we had set up the boss as hating Frances or having some obsessive personality of his own – his restaurant must be perfect or something – then maybe it would have worked or at least not felt as false.
Great freaks out in the restaurant – in front of lots of people – which finally gets the police to take this seriously and take Greta away.
Frances gets the absolute worst advice from her friend: lie to Greta about leaving, lay low and then wait for her to move on to someone else before “coming back”.
This is just ridiculous – there is social media which makes it almost impossible to disappear – and it felt unbelievable that Frances would do this after everything that she has been through.
Of course, Greta sees right through this and calls her on it. Then, Greta poisons her own dog and eventually Frances as well so that she can take her home and lock her in a small box in Greta’s very own murder room.
Greta then uses Frances’ phone to send both her dad and friend messages, supposedly from Frances herself, assuring them that Frances is safe and on a vacation somewhere tropical.
As Frances lives in Greta’s house of horrors, we are treated to a more horror-centric tone and feel which I liked, but could have used more of.
Also, the ending drags – we introduce a private eye (who is ultimately useless) and it seems like they had about 70 minutes of plot, but wanted to stretch it out to a full 90+ minute film.
I won’t tell you how it ends, but just know that I did like where the film took us, but it took awhile to get there. Also, I do think that more could have been done to set this apart from other, similar stalker features.
RENT IT. Though it is predictable, it is well-shot and acted and I think there is a lot that you can learn here by watching the way this unfolds and considering what you would do differently. Especially if you are writing a stalker-centric piece, watch films in this genre and see if you can put your own spin on this type of tale.
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