Don’t take the bait.
A mix between Fatal Attraction (1987) and Stephen King’s Misery (1990), Greta sees director Neil Jordan — the Irish moviemaker behind ’90s classics Interview with the Vampire (1994) and The Crying Game (1992) — return to the artform after a seven-year hiatus, this time taking a stab at the psycho-stalker sub-genre. The results, however, are mild to middling, this Hitchcockian hair-raiser elevated by Isabelle Huppert’s deranged ‘crazy stalker lady’ performance — which, to be frank, is the only reason why anybody should venture out to see this thing. Yes, there’s a quasi-Gothic nature about the proceedings, thanks to some first-rate production design and sleek noir-ish cinematography, which help generate an eerie atmosphere, but given Greta’s lazy plotting and seen-it-before premise, it screams Netflix (or streaming) more than something one needs to watch up on the big screen.
Though photographed like a sleek Euro-flavored thriller, Greta takes place in Manhattan, New York, and opens in the subway, where, during her regular commute, quiet and naïve twenty-something waitress Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) happens upon a little black handbag sitting on a vacant seat. Being so unsuspicious and trusting, and a newcomer to NYC — leaving her father (Colm Feore) behind in Boston — Frances takes the bag home and shows it to her roomie Erica (Maika Monroe), who lives in a trendy Tribeca loft (thanks to her well-to-do folks). Erica, however, is warier than Frances and much more suspecting of others, despite being a bit of a free-spirited party animal; she’s the blatant voice of reason, suggesting that Frances ditch the bag after taking the stash of cash buried inside. The perky Monroe, at one point, blurts out the film’s principal theme of ‘mommy issues,’ and rather unabashedly, too — so nothing is discrete (more on this later).
Frances, though, insists on returning the bag (in person) to its rightful owner (there’s an ID card with an address inside), who just so happens to be the eponymous Greta (Isabelle Huppert), a French widow and piano teacher who seems to be suffering from the same big-city loneliness as Frances, who recently just lost her mother. The two naturally click, finding solace in one another’s company, much to Erica’s dismay — Greta’s daughter is studying abroad so she misses the companionship, while Frances, well, she was close with her mom and longs for that maternal connection. ‘I’m like chewing gum, I tend to stick around,’ Frances promises Greta — something she’ll wish she never said. Spending their time cooking, conversing and dining (Frances even helps Greta adopt a lonely stray dog), the pair become so close that it begins to irritate Erica, who’s now getting ditched — Erica, again, keeps dropping the reality checks, reminding Frances that Greta is still a stranger.
Soon enough, Frances discovers that there’s a darker more sinister side to ‘frail old’ Greta, who (besides lying about her French heritage) goes from being a deranged sociopath — stalking Frances at the upmarket restaurant where she works and showing up unannounced outside Erica’s apartment — to a lethal lunatic — think kidnapping and confinement. Our protagonist, being a normal, levelheaded person, tries to cut all ties with Greta, but Greta, by hook or by crook, is determined to integrate herself into the young girl’s life. And poor Frances, she’s unable to get aid from local law enforcement, who, at this point, are reluctant to intervene given that Greta, on the surface, appears to be nothing more than a harmless admirer (or harasser) who’s a wee bit obsessive — boy are they wrong!
Pulpy and camp, Greta is a B-grade chiller harkening back to the ’80s and ’90s. Taking cues from Hitchcock, the film almost flips the Master of Suspense’s mother complex on its head (which films like Psycho (1960) are tremendously famous for) — femme fatale Greta has a seemingly absent father, her unhinged pathological actions manifested from years of paternal neglect, or so it seems. Problem is, the titular tigress is given minimal motive and backstory, the narrative keeping her schemes, rituals, and deeds ambiguous, and her arc frustratingly fickle and forced — one minute she’s employing some mild emotional abuse, the next she’s a crackers criminal mastermind. Still, in a rare English-speaking role, Isabelle Huppert, Elle (2016), is utterly terrifying as Greta Hideg, her intimidating, asserting presence and unswerving commitment hugely commendable — she’s the flick’s biggest asset, hands down. Seeing the demented madwoman dance gracefully to classical music after a cold-blooded kill is both unnerving and uproarious, the film also featuring one of the looniest self-medication scenes I’ve seen in a long while — Greta’s twisted treatment had the entire audience at my screening in stitches.
Unfortunately, outside of a powerhouse performance Greta is both predictable and clichéd, struggling to subvert the subgenre’s conventions; the first two-thirds are suspenseful enough, the tension escalating steadily, but the whole thing culminates in a hysterical climax that’s kinda hard to swallow. Moreover, Greta contains far too many implausible (quasi ludicrous) plot points and glaring inconsistencies, with many of its ‘shocks and twists’ easy to spot from a mile away — there’s one concerning a brown-haired commuter that’s way too obvious.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Neil Jordan knows how to skillfully craft a slow burn thriller (heck, he’s done it before), but the script here co-written by Jordan — who walked away with an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1992 for The Crying Game — and the less-dependable Ray Wright — having penned schlocky horror films like Pulse (2006) and the 2010 The Crazies remake — is anything but watertight — this thing has more holes than a Swiss cheese. Frances gives into Greta’s demands far too quickly and easily (there’s no fight in the girl), while Stephen Rea’s ill-fated PI, Brian Cody, feels more like fodder than a fully-realized character, Rea a regular collaborator of Jordan’s (appearing in both Interview with the Vampire and The Crying Game) who seems to have hopped on just for the hell of it.
I’d be lying if I said that Chloë Grace Moretz and the stunning Maika Monroe aren’t wholly dedicated too, both giving it their all, but the ladies have better work under their belts; Moretz is generally great in all of her films, from her breakout role in 2010’s Kick-Ass to last year’s Suspiria, while Monroe’s career capstone is still 2017’s outstanding It Follows — the latter, though, looks absolutely killer here.
Well-made and watchable, Greta could’ve really been something special, a Single White Female (1992) for the smartphone generation — it doesn’t even try to signal out the dangers of modern technology (Greta takes a couple of creepy stalker-ish photos, and there’s a quick social media scan — how scary!). Instead, it’s formulaic and forgettable albeit taut and trashy, relying too heavily on well-worn tropes. The curious pairing of Huppert and Moretz, along with Huppert’s deliciously disturbed performance, is enough to warrant a viewing — there’s arguably more fun in stalking a crush or ex on Twitter/ Facebook if you’re that way inclined. In its place, I’d say check out any of the titles Greta owes a debt of gratitude to, starting with Misery, which (as good as Huppert is) features a spine-tingling Oscar-winning performance from Kathy Bates — now there’s a real ankle-basher!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner