Chloë Grace Moretz is a terrific actress. There is no disputing that. However, with the release of Greta, the new thriller in which she stars as the focus of a lonely, mentally-unstable stalker named Greta (Isabelle Huppert), I’m starting to believe that she is not suited to be a star. By this I mean, Moretz is much more powerful as a character actor, someone who is more suited to be part of an ensemble, or support others as opposed to standing in the spotlight.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Character actors are brilliant at what they do. You may not always know their name, but you know their face because they not only show up in several films a year, but they make those films better by creating memorable characters no matter how little time they are actually on screen. (Sam Rockwell and Octavia Spencer are examples of more well-known character actors, but who knows J.T. Walsh? You may not know him by name, but I’m sure you’d recognize him if you saw him). Moretz was the best part of both Kick-Ass movies, and no disrespect to Denzel, but she brought life to every scene in The Equalizer (which made her sorely missed in the Equalizer 2). But it seems that any time she’s required to carry a film (see The Fifth Wave and Carrie), that weight tends to get the better of her.
There’s nothing special about Moretz in Greta. She plays an average New York waitress named Frances who returns a purse she found on the subway to its rightful owner, despite the objections of her friend and roommate (Maika Monroe). This act of kindness turns dangerous when she discovers that the woman places these purses all around, hoping someone will bring them back to her.
The pair instantly connect over similar losses: Frances is still reeling from the recent loss of her mother, and Greta is distraught over the loss of her daughter. They compliment one another, and Frances’s decleration that her mother once said she’s like chewing gum — she tends to stick around — makes Greta’s desire to make that a reality even more intense.
However, that bond the characters share doesn’t quite translate to the bond between actors. Part of the reason has to do with Neil Jordan’s direction. He doesn’t reinvent the wheel, filming each scene with a competent eye, but doing so in a gloomy, slow pace that keeps things from igniting in the way the script calls for. Because of this, neither actor seems to know quite what to do with their characters, keeping mostly subdued by default.
Moretz seems settled into the groove of a depressive state, unwilling to ever want to break through the banalities of Jordan’s vision. This strategy does make sense for the character, but without Moretz filling her eyes with life, we can’t connect to her need to reconnect with her mother, or for her compassion toward someone else dealing with a loss. When she gets a chance to let loose a little, that initial spark is quickly doused by this restraint, or by the next scene, returning her to a state of depressive sleepwalking.
Huppert, on the other hand, isn’t allowed to let her character be as menacing as she should. Instead, she contains her deepest desires, unwilling to give them life outside of vague references and secondary accounts. It doesn’t help that Jordan makes Greta out to be some type of indestructible super human, showing up in places that at times seem impossible, and going against the film’s own rules, simply for a scare.
There are some bright spots throughout the film that I’m sure people who have had the experience of being stalked by someone might truly connect with. Moretz is at her best when she knows Greta is out there waiting for her, unable to feel safe at work or in her own home because there’s nothing the police can do and she never knows where or when her stalker will show up. Whenever she enters an elevator or turns a corner, that unknowing sense of fear resonates incredibly well. The times when Huppert needs to be subdued, as when she simply stands outside of Frances’s place of work, are also expertly done. It only goes to show how good the movie might have been had Jordan given his actors more reign to bring life to their characters.
However, even though the third act makes perfect sense within the context of the script, because these two actors are unable to make a solid, satisfying connection, it never rings true, making the whole third act seem wasted and unwarranted. By the time we reach the somewhat predictable conclusion, I wasn’t as concerned about Frances as I should have been, even as Moretz and Huppert finally start to find the life they’ve been suppressing the entire movie.
I just don’t believe that anyone’s heart was truly in making this film. Although the premise was strong, and there are some good, strong moments sprinkled throughout, it never truly comes together as a satisfying thriller.
My Grade: B
Run the Race, a new faith-based film that follows a high school athlete struggling with his faith after the death of his mother and an injury that could derail his future career, does well to keep its preaching to a minimum as it creates a strong story with a satisfying, albeit bittersweet, ending. A-
Next week, new movies include Captain Marvel. If you would like to see a review for this, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.