Warning! Light spoilers for Greta ahead.
The image of Isabelle Huppert giddily dancing to Chopin in a flowing skirt and pantyhose before plunging a syringe filled with a lethal liquid into an unsuspecting man’s neck is, on the surface, the stuff of nightmares. But as the scene plays in The Crying Game director Neil Jordan’s new film Greta, it’s a campy dance between darkness and humor that Toronto International Film Festival audiences — and the actress herself — ate up.
“The point about a genre like this — and it’s kind of a psychological thriller, I wouldn’t call it quite horror — is it’s a matter of seeing how grotesque you can [make] the situations,” the Oscar-winning filmmaker told a riled-up crowd at the movie’s 2018 TIFF world premiere Thursday night. The showing marks the debut of Jordan’s first feature since the 2012 vampire thriller Byzantium. “How much you can push [the audience] toward that level of grotesquery that is so grotesque it’s almost funny, you know?”
Such is the tonal throughline in his insanely pulpy crowd-pleaser, which follows a motherless woman, Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), who returns a lost purse to the project’s titular widow (Huppert) after finding it abandoned on the New York City subway. The two form a sweet platonic bond that quickly turns sinister as Greta’s true intentions rise to the surface through a series of shocking, unhinged, and disturbingly comedic developments ranging from heavy stalking to Huppert — clad in what appears to be a Chanel suit — literally flipping a table during an outburst inside a fancy restaurant.
“What attracted me to the movie was it wasn’t about vampires and it wasn’t about demons and monsters who lived for 2,000 years in a dark hole under the earth. It was actually about somebody who is deeply, deeply insane and psychopathic,” Jordan told the audience at the Canadian city’s Ryerson University theater. Huppert, however, remained characteristically brief in revealing why she was drawn to Greta: “Well, she’s a monster. That’s enough.”
“I loved it. I thought it was very funny, too,” Huppert, appearing on stage after the screening next to Jordan, Moretz, and costar Maika Monroe, continued, expanding her take on the gleeful sadist she plays in the film. “There is nothing to [redeem] her, actually, and it is precisely what I like about her; [there’s] nothing to justify this monstrosity in her. Yes, as we were doing the movie Neil kept saying it could be out of loneliness or her being a ruthless person. Anything is possible…. but what’s interesting was exploring this very thin border between normality and abnormality and how you cross that border. Hopefully, very few people do it.”
Moretz, however, navigated a different line while making the movie, pushing her threshold for fear to the limit during a scene which sees her character trapped inside a small, coffin-sized box.
“I will say that Isabelle was an incredible help on that because [she] had control over the lid, and she would keep her little fingers underneath and she’d be like, ‘As long as the fingers are there, Chloë, you know that it’s okay,” the admittedly claustrophobic actress said as the audience laughed. “And I would get underneath this box and it would shut and I’d just see her little fingers and be like, it’s ok.”
And on Moretz’s end, that sense of trust was fostered far before the actresses met for the project.
“When I read the script, I knew that Isabelle was potentially attached to be Greta, and I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn’t really miss to be able to work with someone who in my eyes has always been such an inspiration to me as a young woman coming up in my career,” she said. “She taught me to be formidable and not to be afraid to take chances and take risks in characters, so the opportunity to work opposite Isabelle was…. a dream come true.”