Saturday, 17 August 2019

Greta

Thoughts on the film by Neil Jordan

A new film by Neil Jordan is always going to be an event for me; even if turns out to be one of his occasional excursions into the conventional world of mainstream Hollywood. Greta (2018) feels more in line with Jordan's other, often flawed studio endeavours, We're No Angels (1989), Interview with the Vampire (1994), In Dreams (1999), The Brave One (2007), etc, lacking from the outset the more distinctive spark and invention found in his more personal efforts, such as The Company of Wolves (1984), The Butcher Boy (1997), Breakfast on Pluto (2005) and Ondine (2009). Jordan's Hollywood excursions are often massively compromised and far from his greatest works and Greta is no exception.

While not as visually stunning or thematically rich as the similarly overdone psychodrama In Dreams, it's not as compromised or hysterical either. It's not as polished or prestigious as Interview with the Vampire, but it's also less prosaic. And unlike his last Hollywood production, the anonymous revenge fantasy The Brave One, it does at least feel like a Neil Jordan film, littered as it is with his usual references to fairy-tale iconography, broken families, mirror symbolism and the perspective of lost girls. In its collision between coming of age narrative and psycho-drama it hints a little towards his greatest work, The Butcher Boy, with some apparent throwbacks found in the repeated use of the song "Where Are You?" (made famous by Frank Sinatra), a mid-narrative dream sequence and the image of the title character dancing-childlike around the kitchen after carrying out a violent attack.


Greta [Neil Jordan, 2019]: 

While nowhere near the same level as Jordan's best work, I still found a lot to like here. The original screenplay was written by Ray Wright; a screenwriter known for Hollywood horror remakes like Pulse (2006) and The Crazies (2010). In re-writing the screenplay before filming, Jordan creates a strange tension between the two voices of the text; one that in a way mirrors the tension between the protagonist and antagonist of the film itself. It's not difficult to see Wright as Frances (the naive youngster defined by her engagement with social media, casual dialog and attempts to be seen as good or virtuous), with Greta herself becoming kind of avatar for Jordan; an older, seemingly eccentric European, with a love of classical music and an air for the tragic that points towards something violent.

When Greta uses the tools of Frances's generation to ensnare the young woman, it feels like Jordan himself is taking something current from Wright's original story and using it against the modern audience. If the film is flawed in any way (and it is) it's in the weak or under-developed characterisations. Protagonist Frances is defined only by stock familial clichés and denied any kind of emotional catharsis, while we never learn enough about the villainous Greta for her to ascend to the same level as other iconic screen monsters such as Annie Wilkes and Hannibal Lecter. That said, it's a beautifully shot film that makes the most of its Dublin-doubling-as-New-York locations, and one that finds Jordan indulging a lot of his preferred visual quirks and thematic interests.