In its review of Neil Jordan's Greta, The Hollywood Reporter notes that “Almost every movie by Irish writer-director Neil Jordan has the air of a fable about it, though it's never a bedtime story you'd want to tell your children.” Like many such tales, Greta begins with a heroine who sees the best in everyone. When Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) discovers a stylish handbag abandoned in a subway car, she decides to track down the owner and return it. Down an alley in a small house, she finds Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an older woman who lives alone with her piano, her old world charm, and her strangely noisy neighbors. While set in contemporary Manhattan, a world of downtown lofts and iPhone communication, the story of Frances and Greta's uneasy relationship grows increasinlgy dark and fable-like. Greta presents “a stalker thriller with a Grimm fairy tale’s strangeness and macabre sense of morality,” notes Slant.
With Greta now playing in theaters, we’re celebrating other master storytellers who know how to weave a strand of the fantastic into the fabric of their stories in order to give us something unexpected. From the big bad wolf in Hanna to the bestial urges of Raw, here are films whose storybook fantasies capture the imagination.
Hanna tubo-boosts the fairy tale genre
In Joe Wright’s Hanna, the title character (Saoirse Ronan) is a young teen being raised by her ex-spy father (Eric Bana) in an arctic forest, waiting for the moment she’ll be called on to take out a rogue CIA director (Cate Blanchett). While the film plays like a high-octane action thriller, for Wright, it is rooted in an older, more archetypal genre. "It is a fairy tale, and fairy tales, by their very nature, are violent and dark,” explains Wright, adding, “I think that fairy tales need to confront the dark side and overcome it." From its cabin in the woods to its final big bad wolf in an abandoned Berlin amusement park, Hanna is a fairy tale “the Brothers Grimm would be proud of,” writes The Wrap.
Fairy tales become real in A Monster Calls
Adapted from Patrick Ness’ popular novel, J. A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls defies expectation, weaving together elements of fairy tales, psychological melodrama, and gothic fantasy to capture the emotional state of Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a young man pushed too far. Bullied at school, overwhelmed by his critically ill mother (Felicity Jones), and hamstrung by his controlling grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), Conor summons a monster in the form of an ancient yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) to help him. Mixing animation, CGI, and green screen effects to conjure up his young hero's fevered imagination, Bayona explains “how we need fantasy to understand reality.” But here the “happily ever after” is focused on feeling the real emotions of the moment. “You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll cry some more,” explains USA Today, adding “A Monster Calls pulls off an impressive feat creating an intensely moving fairy tale for today."
Raw makes the mundane strange
Julia Ducournau’s Raw brings the brutal reality of classic fairy tales to a very modern setting in her alt horror film Raw. When Justine (Garance Marillier), a young vegan at a veterinary school, is forced to eat meat during a hazing ritual, a strange hunger ignites inside her, one that taps into our most bestial and taboo instincts. Described by The Guardian as “a gleefully Grimm 21st-century fairytale,” Ducournau’s debut film uses the genre’s tropes to make everyday things hyperreal. “We’re not talking about fantasy things or another world that doesn’t exist,” explains Ducournau about the body horror in her film. “I like to make these very mundane, daily things strange.”
Love unlocks the fantasy world of Moonrise Kingdom
Set in 1965 on the imaginary island of New Penzance, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom has a plot that, according to film scholar David Bordwell, “provides something of a modern fairy tale.” Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are two children from different worlds—she, the daughter of a leading citizen; he, an orphan—who run off into the forest to find the magical cove of Moonrise Kingdom. While the adult world (played by Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and more) try to capture the children, they live in their own fantasy. For Anderson, the film's warm, nostalgic palette and fantastic imagery are less a consequence of creating a fairy tale and more a byproduct of the kids’ state of mind. “The main thing I was interested to do was to make a romance of two 12-year-olds,” explains Anderson. “Any romantic feelings for a 12-year-old are like entering into a fantasy world.”