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Courtesy of Focus Features

March 13, 2019

‘Greta’ is ‘Hansel and Gretel’ on Steroids

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Greta Hideg, a fifty-something-year-old woman portrayed by Isabelle Huppert, is purposefully placing handbags in subway cars to lure unsuspecting people into returning them to her home. Once they arrive, she holds them captive so she can fulfill her mother-savior fantasy. Frances McCullen, Chloë Grace Moretz, has just moved to New York City after the death of her mother. One night on the train after waitressing, Frances spots this angular, green handbag. Unsure of what to do with the bag, she rifles through its contents, and after a small debate with her loft mate Erica (Maika Monroe), decides to venture to Brooklyn to return the bag.

Upon arrival, a still lonely Frances is welcomed by Greta, a whimsical, red-haired woman with a French accent and sharp wardrobe. The small home is tidy and timeless; a portal, even. Greta immediately offers Frances a cup of coffee and relates her tales of loss: First of her husband, then her daughter to Paris and even her dog. Frances counters with the story of her mother.

Greta and Frances immediately bond over their losses and Franz Liszt’s Liebestraum, or lovesong, which serves as the film’s signature melody. In their first moments together, Frances – vulnerable from the loss of her mother – is drawn in by the kindness Greta so freely provides. Frances tells Greta she’s like “chewing gum . . . I tend to stick around.” Despite the sentimental value the quote is supposed to evoke, it leaves a sense of perturbation and the faint impression that, maybe this duo is meant to be.

Greta is an image of striking elegance. Always in a tailored trench coat or reciting famous fashion quotes, she is a textbook example of how images can be deceiving. In one scene, Greta topples a table while wearing a fitted tweed suit and pearls. As the police struggle to restrain Greta, a muted symphony plays in the background. Greta remains as composed and haunting as ever.

The plot chronicles Greta’s obsessive attraction to Frances. To my pleasant surprise, Frances quickly learns Greta is a bit off her rocker and does her best to protect herself. From hundreds of text messages, to stalking and even kidnapping, Greta unrelentingly pursues her victim. Each scene flirts (at times, forcefully) with the boundary between fantasy and reality such that Neil Jordan’s take on Hansel and Gretel-meets-psycho-thriller is nuanced and a bit unexpected. Greta, her home, and her love for Liszt greatly contrast the hustle and bustle of the city; Frances’s daydreams leave you wondering what just happened? and Erica serves as the voice of reason that brings the film back to Earth.

At an hour and a half, the film is just the right amount of time. Greta is an intriguing break from reality whose greatest thrill is the reminder that loneliness and longing are just some of the delusions that can cause us to lose our minds and commit irrational acts. The crazy woman trope and the combination of fantasy and reality culminate in a somewhat delightful twist ending. Despite the entertaining qualities of the film, if you don’t have the time this week, do not worry – the trailer tells all.

Hannah Bollinger is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at hkb33@cornell.edu.