GRETA (2019) – Thriller Has Strong Performances, Weak Script

1
greta

Maika Monroe and Chloe Grace Moretz in GRETA (2019).

GRETA (2019), a new thriller by writer/director Neil Jordan, who way back in the day gave us THE CRYING GAME (1992), features three strong performances by three very talented actresses, but unfortunately, they’re stuck in a story that just never rings true.

Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a young twenty-something who moves from Boston to New York City to share an apartment with her college roommate Erica (Maika Monroe). Frances is having a tough go of it, as her mother recently passed away, and she disapproves of the way her father Chris (Colm Feore) is dealing with the loss. In short, he’s moved on. She hasn’t.

When Frances finds a woman’s handbag left on the subway train, she picks it up and brings it home. While Erica tries to convince her to keep the cash inside, Frances refuses. Instead, she returns the bag to its owner, a lonely widow named Greta (Isabelle Huppert). The two become friends, drawn together by their losses. While Erica tries to convince Frances that her relationship with Greta is weird and that she should be hanging out with people her own age— she’s not going to meet any guys by spending all her time with Greta—, Frances ignores her friend’s advice. All is well for a while, until Frances makes a discovery that reveals to her that Greta is not what she seems.

Not by a long shot.

And hence GRETA becomes a thriller, albeit not a very good one, which is too bad because I enjoyed the three actresses in this movie a lot.

I’ve been a big fan of Chloe Grace Moretz ever since her break-out role as Hit Girl in KICK-ASS (2010) when she was just 13.  Moretz was also excellent as the young vampire in LET ME IN (2010) and as Carrie in the remake of CARRIE (2013). She’s convincing here as a young woman who’s been rocked by the death of her mother. She plays Frances as a sensitive youth, and so it makes sense that one, the loss of her mother would affect her so deeply, and two, she’d be vulnerable to Greta’s entreaties. She also does terror really well, as late in the film when her character is placed in dire situations she makes her fear palpable.

Maika Monroe is also excellent as Frances’ roommate and best friend Erica. Monroe starred in one of my favorite horror movies of recent years, IT FOLLOWS (2014). It was fun to watch Monroe and Moretz work together on-screen, and I thought they shared some nice chemistry. And later in the film, the script allows Erica to become the heroine, which was a nice touch, rather than have some male character swoop in to save the day.

And Isabelle Huppert is chilling as Greta once her dark side becomes exposed. Before that, she does a nice job making Greta a sympathetic widow, but unfortunately the sympathy gets tossed out the window once the script goes full throttle and turns Greta into a ridiculous one-note monster.

I so wanted to like this movie, because I really enjoyed the three leads so much, but the script is as bad as they are good.

Written by director Neil Jordan and Ray Wright, the screenplay goes way over the top much too soon. A thriller like this really needs to be nuanced and intelligent. This one hits you over the head like an iron frying pan.  So much for nuance! When Frances makes her discovery, she’s obviously upset, and so her initial reaction to flee Greta’s home makes sense, but later, especially given how much Greta had recently meant to her, you’d expect her to at least hear Greta out, but she refuses, which sets Greta into stalker mode immediately. No build up, no doubt or wondering, just in your face crazy lady.

Greta’s actions are so over the top they are almost laughable. As such, midway through, when this thriller should have had me on the edge of my seat, I simply stopped believing in it, and it didn’t resonate anymore. I believed things even less when they became really crazy towards the end, which is a shame, because the final scenes are really well-acted by Moretz, Huppert, and Monroe.

And the story had plenty of opportunities to become something more. There were unexplored aspects to both Frances’ and Greta’s relationship as well as Frances’ and Erica’s. As it stands, it’s all rather superficial. We don’t know a lot about these people. We know Frances is still upset about her mother’s death, but how close is she to Erica, for instance? At times they seem inseparable while at others they seem very distant.

And if we knew more about Greta, if her story was more nuanced than just crazy lady strikes back, this one would have had more sting.

Ray Wright also wrote the screenplay to the remake THE CRAZIES (2010), a film I liked much more than this one.

The three actresses dominate this movie, which is a good thing, since they have most of the screen time. Colm Feore, who we just saw in the horror film THE PRODIGY (2019) as the expert in reincarnation, gets a little screen time here as Frances’ father. And Stephen Rea gets a thankless minuscule role as a private investigator hired to find Frances once she goes missing. He’s not a very smart investigator, and as such he doesn’t last long in this movie. Greta sees to that!

Director Neil Jordan seemed to be trying to make an intelligent thriller but like the actors he’s let down by a superficial script. He also doesn’t help his cause as there’s nary a suspenseful scene in this one. Even towards the end, everything that happens is predictable. And when things get really insane, the scenes simply aren’t as dark as they should be.

I can’t say that I liked GRETA all that much, in spite of the impressive acting performances it features. Once we learn Greta’s secret, the story becomes too ridiculous to be believable, and as such,  I simply stopped caring about any of it.

GRETA takes what could have been a highbrow thriller and reduces it to melodramatic malarkey.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

New in 2019! DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version coming soon!

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: CARRIE (2013)

0

Carrie poster 2013Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the recent remake of CARRIE (2013) starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.  It’s up now in the February 2015 Edition of THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT it’s the 2013 remake of CARRIE starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore.

CARRIE, based on Stephen King’s first novel and first filmed in 1976 by Brian De Palma with Sissy Spacek in the lead role, tells the story of awkward teenager Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) who’s constantly picked on at school because she is awkward and shy.  Carrie acts this way because she has been brought up— and until recently, home-schooled— by her religious fanatic mother Margaret (Julianne Moore).  Fanatic might be too lenient a term.  In short, Margaret is a lunatic!  For example, Margaret’s idea of effective parenting includes locking Carrie in a closet so she can pray for forgiveness.  We’re never told why Margaret acts the way she does, but we can assume she experienced one or more traumatic events earlier in her life.

After Carrie’s classmates make a vicious video of her in the girl’s locker room shower, gym teacher Ms. Desjardin (Judy Greer) punishes the girls responsible by restricting their prom privileges unless they do extra drills during gym class.  Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) sees the error of her ways and in good faith asks her boyfriend Tommy (Ansel Elgort) to take Carrie to the prom instead.  Carrie is wary of the invitation, but eventually is convinced that Tommy is not trying to trick her, and so she says yes.

While Sue and Tommy have the best intentions, the wild and rebellious Chris (Portia Doubleday) does not, and she and her boyfriend plan an elaborate scheme of revenge to get back at Carrie at the prom.

The other thing about Carrie is that she has telekinetic powers, which come in handy for dealing with the likes of her mother, and in the film’s bloody finale, Sue and the others who try to humiliate her.

The original CARRIE was directed by Brian De Palma, and starred Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her mother Margaret, both of whom were nominated for Academy Awards, so as good as this sequel is, and as good as both Chloe Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore are, they would be hard-pressed to match the efforts of the original.  Sissy Spacek, for example, remains the definitive Carrie.

However, there’s a lot to like about the 2013 version.

I enjoyed how director Kimberly Peirce and screenwriters Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa updated the story.  For example, in this version, the girls take the video of Carrie on a cell phone which they then upload to the internet.  This version also does a better job than the original of showing Sue’s motives as to why she wants to help Carrie.

Chloe Grace Moretz does a nice job as Carrie.  Before seeing the movie, I was concerned that Moretz would have been too normal and good looking for the part, but she does a good job making Carrie awkward and uncomfortable.

Like Piper Laurie in the original, the scariest part of this movie is Julianne Moore as Carrie’s mother Margaret.  Is Moore as good as Laurie?  Probably not, but she’s still damn scary, which is a good thing, because there’s not much else that’s frightening about CARRIE.  It’s disturbing, to be sure, as Carrie’s life is a tough one, as she’s bullied at school, and at home she’s dominated by her insane mother.  And it’s exceedingly sad to see Carrie humiliated at the prom, and even her revenge doesn’t feel rewarding.  You just want to see her be happy, not single-handedly wiping out half her high school class!

The acting here is above average.  In addition to Moretz and Moore, Gabrielle Wilde is very good as sympathetic Sue Snell, as is Judy Greer as Ms. Desjardin.  Portia Doubleday does a nice job making Chris a spoiled bratty nemesis for Carrie, and while I liked Ansel Elgort as wholesome boyfriend Tommy the first time I saw this one at the movies, the second time I watched this on Netflix I found him rather syrupy sweet, and I had a hard time taking him seriously.

The best part of CARRIE is it tells a genuine tale of the effects of bullying, something that too many high school students have to deal with, and the sad part is they’ve been dealing with it for years—long before King wrote the novel in the early 70s— and they continue to deal with it today.  This combined with the other part of the story, Carrie’s relationship with her abusive mother, make this one sadder than most horror tales.

I liked this version of CARRIE well enough, and by far my favorite part of this movie was the performances by Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as her demented mother Margaret.

CARRIE is a gloomy drama about a young girl who is eventually pushed to the edge of her sanity, to the point where she can’t take it any longer and strikes back with the full force of her deadly telekinetic abilities.  Yet, this action does little to lift Carrie out of her predicament.  In fact, it doesn’t rescue her from her plight at all.  It simply ends it.

In CARRIE, the only release from pain is death.

For those who like dark stories, you can’t get much darker than that.

—END—

STOCKING STUFFERS 2014: Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

0
"I hope you like my gift, Larry.  I picked it out of the graveyard myself."

“I hope you like my gift, Larry. I picked it out of the graveyard myself.”

STOCKING STUFFERS – 2014

Gifts I’d Like to Find Under My Tree This Year

By

Michael Arruda

 

Here are a few horror movie goodies that I’d like to find under my Christmas tree this year, in no particular order:

 

-A newly discovered unedited complete version of KING KONG (1933) including the infamous lost “spider in the pit” sequence.  Sorry folks, this still hasn’t been discovered yet and as of right now only exists in our collective imaginations.

 

-For the recently restored unedited version of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) to be made available here in the United States.  This one does exist, but no sign of it in the U.S. yet.  What’s the hold up???

 

-A boxed set of all the Universal monster movies with long lost scenes restored, including Bela Lugosi’s scenes of dialogue as the Frankenstein Monster in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943), Dwight Frye’s extended scenes as Karl in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), and the original cut of THE WOLF MAN (1941) where Lon Chaney’s Larry Talbot only becomes a werewolf in his own mind.

 

-A horror movie with Johnny Depp in a serious role instead of the over-the-top goofy roles he’s been taking of late.  It’s as if he’s quit being Depp and instead has adopted the persona of Jack Sparrow from the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, and it’s Sparrow making all these recent films like DARK SHADOWS, THE LONE RANGER, and INTO THE WOODS, not Depp.

 

-More horror films with Chloe Grace Moretz.  She was phenomenal in LET ME IN (2010) and pretty darn good in the re-boot of CARRIE (2013) as well.  And the best part?  Chloe Grace Moretz is not a scream queen!  She’s a force to be reckoned with.

 

-Speaking of LET ME IN, how about some more horror movies by director Matt Reeves?  He’s directed two of the best horror movies in the past decade, CLOVERFIELD (2008) and LET ME IN (2010), not to mention the excellent DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014).  He’s one of the most talented genre directors working today.

 

-Speaking of CLOVERFIELD, how about the long awaited sequel which has been rumored for years finally coming out?  That would be nice.

 

-A reversal in the decision to turn the Universal monsters into superheroes.  The powers that be at Universal are making a huge mistake here.  To me, this decision is a concession that these monsters are no longer scary, and that’s simply not true.  All it takes is a good writer, combined with a talented director, and these monsters could be relevant again.  Don’t bother remaking the origin stories- we all know them.  What we need are new tales of these monsters in frightening horror movies which will scare modern audiences to death.  Leave the superheroes to Marvel!

 

-Speaking of Marvel, I’d like to see Robert Downey, Jr. in a horror movie.  Scarlett Johansson too, for that matter.

 

-Speaking of people making horror movies, Woody Allen made his decision to move on from comedies years ago and continues to churn out quality films year after year.  I sure wish he’d channel his keen writing talents and write a horror tale someday.  I think it would be pretty cool.

 

-Lastly, to all my writer friends, I’d like to find a copy of your latest book under my tree so I could read your work throughout the year.  My Christmas wish for all of us is that we have books in print year after year for years to come!

 

Thanks all!

 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy winter!

Thanks for reading!

 

—Michael

 

 

 

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: LET ME IN (2010)

0
What happens when Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) enters her friend's home without being invited first, in LET ME IN (2010).

What happens when Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) enters her best friend Owen’s home without being invited first, in LET ME IN (2010).

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  LET ME IN (2010)

 

Here’s a still from LET ME IN (2010), the exceptional vampire movie by director Matt Reeves.

LET ME IN is a remake of the Swedish horror movie LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), and both these films are excellent.  I found LET ME IN just as good as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

LET ME IN tells the story of a young boy Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) bullied at school who develops a close friendship with a mysterious young girl Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who recently moved into the apartment next door.  It turns out, Abby is a vampire.

The best part of LET ME IN is that the true horror in this one is the way Owen is bullied at school, and the story is set up so that in spite of the horrible things we see Abby do as a vampire, we’re actually rooting for her to survive so she can help Owen with his bully problem.

There are also many wonderful tender moments in this one, and this photo is from one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  Abby tells Owen she can’t enter his apartment unless he invites her inside.  When Owen doesn’t do this, as he’s not sure he believes her, she enters anyway.  Once inside, she begins to bleed profusely.  Seeing this, Owen rushes to her immediately and hugs her, repeatedly telling her she’s invited.  It’s an emotional and touching moment in the film, in a movie that is full of moments like this one.

LET ME IN was the comeback film for England’s Hammer Films, and it’s directed by one of the best genre directors working today, Matt Reeves, who also directed CLOVERFIELD (2008) and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014).  It also has an excellent cast, including its two talented young leads, Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

If you haven’t seen LET ME IN, you’re missing quite a treat.  Even though it’s about two twelve year olds, it’s a very adult movie, and it doesn’t skimp on the horror. It’s not a gory shock-filled extravaganza, but rather a beautifully shot deliberate and very suspenseful thriller that will hook you from its opening moments right up until the end.

It’s one of my favorite vampire movies of recent years, and I highly recommend it.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: LET ME IN (2010)

0

Let Me In poster

Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Hammer comeback movie LET ME IN (2010) directed by Matt Reeves and starring Chloe Grace Moretz, published in the August 2014 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter.

And remember, if you like this column, my book IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 horror movie columns, is available from NECON EBooks as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

LET ME IN (2010) is one of my favorite vampire movies.

Sure, it’s the first Hammer Film to be released in theaters since the 1970s, but that’s not the reason I like it so much.

And yes, it’s a remake of the Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), which many consider to be the superior film.  However, back in its heyday, Hammer made its living with horror movie remakes, and they did just fine.  I’m here to say that Hammer’s version of the novel Let The Right One In by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, the source material for both movies, is every bit as good as the original 2008 film.

Of course, it helps to have a topnotch director at the helm, and a charismatic young star.  Hammer had both, in director Matt Reeves, the man responsible for the instant horror movie classic CLOVERFIELD (2008), and in young actress Chloe Grace Moretz, who dazzled audiences as the 11 year-old crime fighter Hit Girl in KICK-ASS (2010).

In LET ME IN, twelve year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is having a rough time of it.  His parents are getting divorced, and he’s bullied relentlessly at school by a group of bullies led by a boy named Kenny (Dylan Minnette).  However, things begin to look up when a young girl named Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) moves into the apartment next door with her father (Richard Jenkins).

The two become friends, and for Owen, things get even better when Abby agrees to go steady with him, which for a twelve year-old, is a huge deal.  But Abby has a dark secret— she’s a vampire, and when people around the apartment complex start turning up dead, and a police detective (Elias Koteas) shows up investigating the murders, Owen realizes his new best friend is responsible for some very bad things.

LET ME IN works on many different levels, but the best part is that the true horror in this movie isn’t the vampire stuff, but the hellish torment Owen goes through at school at the hands of Kenny and his friends.  Even though Abby is responsible for killing people and drinking their blood, we don’t hate or fear her.  In fact, we’re rooting for her when she offers to help Owen with his bully problem.  Likewise, we’re rooting for Owen and Abby to somehow elude the authorities so they can remain friends.

LET ME IN is blessed with very likable characters.  Take the police detectivechloe grace moretz – let me in, played by Elias Koteas, for example.  He’s a very sympathetic character, which leads to a mixture of emotions later in the film when he closes in on Abby and Owen.  We obviously don’t want to see Abby caught by the police, but yet in a very exciting scene near the end of the film, when Koteas’ detective finally gets inside Abby’s apartment and is about to discover her body sleeping during the day, we don’t want to see anything happen to him either.

The same can be said about Richard Jenkins’ character.  He goes about the countryside brutally murdering people so he can get blood for Abby, and yet, in a key scene, where his plans go awry, we’re almost wishing for him to escape those who are chasing him.

Our emotions are played perfectly by writer/director Matt Reeves.  Other than the two young leads, Reeves is the reason this movie works so well.  It’s a clever script with even better direction.

Behind the camera, Reeves pays close attention to detail.  The murder scenes are set up as intricately as something Hitchcock would have done.  And the story is told in a way that builds suspense and piques our interest.  From the opening sequence where a police escort brings a severely burned victim to the hospital, the victim a suspect in a series of “cult” murders, we wonder, who is this guy?  We don’t know the truth about Abby at first, and only gradually do we learn what’s really going on.

Then there’s the whole love story angle, which works incredibly well considering the leads are just twelve years-old, which is why, no doubt, Reeves continually makes reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, to perhaps show us the relevance and validity of young love.  The scenes between Moretz and McPhee are handled with an amazing degree of sensitivity and tenderness.

I have to say that I loved Reeves’ directorial effort here, so much so that I think he may have matched his phenomenal work on CLOVERFIELD.

The two leads own this movie.  Chloe Grace Moretz is spectacular here as young Abby.  She’s as good as she was as Hit Girl in KICK-ASS.  She’s incredibly sincere and real in her scenes with Owen, and when she becomes haunted by her bloodlust, she turns savage in a second, and young Moretz handles this transition masterfully.

Young Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen is every bit as good as Moretz.  He’s such a scrawny helpless victim you can’t help but feel for him.  And again, his scenes with Moretz are nothing short of amazing.  Their relationship is genuine and heartfelt.

The scene where they deal with Abby’s need to be invited inside a home is one of the most touching sequences you’ll find in any vampire movie.

The film also features an excellent supporting cast.  Richard Jenkins is outstanding as Abby’s guardian.  In fact, the sequence where his murder attempt goes wrong, and he finds himself trapped in the backseat of a car is one of my favorite scenes in the movie.  Jenkins makes this man such a sympathetic character, which is remarkable, considering the brutal murders he commits.

Elias Koteas is also excellent as the police detective, and to his credit he takes a small role and makes it matter.  We want to see him solve the crime, until that is, it means capturing young Abby.  Koteas and Jenkins are two of my favorite actors, and it was great seeing them both in this movie.

Just as good as these two veteran actors is young Dylan Minnette as the bully Kenny.  He’s as menacing a bully as you’ll find in a movie.  Minnette was also very good as Hugh Jackman’s son in the kidnap thriller PRISONERS (2013).

Don’t let the fact that LET ME IN is a remake fool you.

LET ME IN is a superior horror film, written and directed by one of the most talented directors working in genre films today, Matt Reeves, and it features knock-out performances by its two young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz, as well as a topnotch cast of supporting actors.  And, it’s produced by Hammer Films, a company that based on its rich history (hello Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) knows a thing or two about horror movie remakes.

“Can I come in?”  Abby asks Owen from outside his window.  “You have to say it.”

Say what?

LET ME IN.

–END—