Movie Review: GRETA (2019)

It wouldn’t be fair to start this review without saying that this movie absolutely shook me. It completely immersed me physically, emotionally, and psychologically. And it provided me with a really rich experience. Upon leaving the theater, I felt shaky, on edge, and highly energized. It was exactly what I would hope to gain from watching a psychological thriller. On my ride home, I was so consumed with processing this film that I accidentally drove an hour in the opposite direction of my house. I can’t say this film will have the same impact on everyone, but I can share why it affected me so deeply.   

On the surface, GRETA is about an unexpected friendship between a young NYC transplant named Frances and a lonely widow, Greta. Bonded by grief, the pair quickly develop a strong connection resembling a mother-daughter relationship. When information is brought to the surface regarding Greta’s suspicious motives for friendship, toxic relationship dynamics come to full focus as a battle for power and control ensues.

GRETA is a reflection on abusive relational dynamics, unconscious processes, and codependency. Isabelle Huppert’s masterful performance exposes opposite propensities of maternal energy to display aspects of both the good and bad mother. Greta embodies both the warm fairy godmother figure and the wicked witch. Additionally, in many ways, she demonstrates hyperbolized personality disorder traits in the sense that she displays an intense fear of abandonment, unstable interpersonal relationships, oscillation between idealization and devaluation of others, and explosive rage.

Although this exaggerated maternal depiction is very extreme, it speaks deeply to the archetypal ideas of motherhood housed in our collective unconscious. Renown depth psychologist Carl Jung identifies the collective unconscious as humanity’s shared history of myth and images. Isabelle Huppert portrayal of Greta harnesses these collective fantasies of motherhood that are both terrifying and at times comforting. Images of the wise grandmother, nurturing Madonna, and wish-fulfilling fairy godmother are all present. However, in this film, the ice queen, devouring black widow, and annihilating evil witch are also all fully realized. Eerie suspense of waiting for the other shoe to drop creates a motif of walking on eggshells present throughout the film. Metaphorically, Greta can be considered as an internalized mother figure that haunts Frances at every turn. Due to the influence of Academy Award ® winning director Neil Jordan, startling and disturbing images of Greta are captured that burn into your memory. 

Whereas Greta embodies both the good and bad mother, Frances, skillfully played by Chloë Grace Moretz, encapsulates naive childhood innocence. We watch helplessly as the protagonist gets deeper and deeper into toxic relational dynamics. Her codependent reliance on Greta for comfort cues the audience in anticipation for the negative consequences to ensue. Frances is caught in a difficult situation with limited support.  Her failed attempts to set healthy boundaries leads her to utilize manipulation and deception in a desperate attempt to escape a challenging situation. Writers Neil Jordan and Ray Wright create a compelling character arc for Frances. As she becomes more and more compromised in scheming, manipulating, and plotting revenge under the guise of protecting herself, she becomes ripe for her downfall. Her innocence albeit waning provides a stark contrast to Greta’s omnipresent threat of figurative devourment. Moretz performance taps into a shared experience of childhood as being immersed in fantasy and naive to the dangers of the world.

Overall, GRETA is a modern twist on the classic Hansel and Gretel fairy tale that will seep into your unconscious. Writers Neil Jordan and Ray Wright create dynamic multilayered characters that are compelling and evocative. The balance of bordering fantasy and reality provides an opportunity for immersion on both a conscious and unconscious level. Rich with metaphor and tasteful gore, this film is impactful on many levels. Grab your tickets to see GRETA on the big screen March 1, 2019, in a theater near you.

Danielle Nicole
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