Written by: Neil Jordan, Ray Wright
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Maika Monroe
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Everyone needs a friend.
No good deed goes unpunished, especially in horror movies. While critics often point to the latent moralizing of films that often victimizes debauched teenagers, it tends to be an equal opportunity genre, perfectly capable of fucking up nice people in equal measure. Case in point: Greta, wherein naïve Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz) simply wants to do the right thing by returning a missing bag to its owner, only to have these good intentions twisted into an entire ordeal when Isabelle Huppert begins to stalk her. There are unexpectedly great loglines and then there’s that, and Greta proves to be a nice, demented little surprise that Hollywood has dropped into our laps here.
Huppert is the title character, a widowed New York City resident who’s all too eager to bring Frances into her world when she arrives with her missing bag in tow. Frances’s roommate (Maika Monroe!) is rightfully concerned, especially when she begins to spend nights and weekends hanging out with this total stranger. However, the bond comforts Frances, who is still reeling from the loss of her mother and sorting out an estranged relationship with her father. In Greta, she finds a fellow lost, wounded soul seeking a friend. It’s all completely innocent, if not heartwarming—at least until Frances discovers Greta is a con-artist who purposely lures unsuspecting marks into her twisted orbit by purposely leaving those “missing” bags all around the city. Naturally, Frances wants nothing to do with the woman and attempts to cut her out of her life completely. Greta is having none of it, though, and will do seemingly anything to maintain this relationship.
A more restrained, suspenseful version of this tale might bother with the pretense of making the first part of the story’s equation matter. It’d probably devote a good chunk of the runtime—perhaps even half of it—to investing into its central relationship before pulling the rug from beneath it. You might even imagine it to be heartbreaking and affecting when it goes south. With world class actresses like Moretz and Huppert taking direction from Neil Jordan, it’s really not difficult to visualize this as a truly dramatic tale, one that plumbs the depths of the human psyche to spin a compelling yarn about trauma, loneliness, and predatory behavior.
Friends, Greta is not that movie. Sure, the talent involved creates the illusion of prestige, and Jordan mostly maintains a steady, restrained hand, but make no mistake: this is a movie that resorts directly to its schlock potential. Greta’s ruse lasts for less than 30 minutes into the film, leaving the audience with a glorious hour of Isabelle Huppert going insane and terrorizing poor Chloe Moretz. As soon as it possibly can, Greta eagerly devolves into a collection of menacing shots of its title character (accompanied by ominous orchestral shrieks) lurking stoically in the frame, watching her victim from afar. She grows more bold, of course, in both confronting Frances at work and stalking her roommate for good measure. Hell hath no fury like a French widow scorned, it turns out.
Of course, the screenplay doesn’t completely abandon its interest in its title character’s warped psychology. Frances goes on the customary quest to uncover the truth about this crazy person, only to find each revelation to be more horrifying than the last. It turns out that the thuds emanating from Greta’s walls aren’t noisy neighbors, after all, as her house holds much grislier secrets. Greta isn’t afraid to get a little gross here, as the script hoards some decent shocks in the form of mutilated fingers and half-dead victims gasping for breath in the basement. Jordan and co-writer Ray Wright don’t shy away from Greta’s demented, obvious endgame, either, and follow the premise to its inevitable conclusion: with Frances in the clutches of this mad woman, in need of rescue.
While this stretch of the story obviously thrives on suspense and dramatic irony (it practically invites the audience to bellow at the screen to oblivious characters), it does so with a crooked smile. Between its ironic needle-drops and Huppert’s gleefully sardonic turn, the film obviously has a nice—if not morbid—sense of humor, almost as if someone decided to take the implied camp of a Lifetime movie along these lines and rendered it into an actual black comedy. Clearly, any movie that features Isabelle Huppert pirouetting around the house after blowing a guy’s head off knows exactly what it’s up to.
There is perhaps an argument that Greta isn’t self-aware enough. Truthfully, it feels like it needs just a little bit something more to put it completely over the top. As the credits fade onto the screen, there’s a sinking feeling that it’s afraid to completely unhinge itself, and I’m not sure why. It’s not like Greta even has the faint pretense of self-seriousness that explains its somewhat timid ending. Ironically, its climax does have the potential to go completely off the rails, if only because it’s so obvious and predictable: from the moment the camera plays coy with a character’s identity, you know exactly where it’s headed—which is also exactly why you assume one further twist awaits. Instead, Greta does go exactly the way you expect it do: like a half-assed riff on Get Out, only it's for white girls.
But there’s something to be said for that, especially when it’s helmed with the unassuming confidence of a master like Jordan. Greta is sharp, economical, and boasts terrific, invested performances from everyone involved. I’m especially not going to be too tough on any movie that has the good sense to not only feature Makia Monroe but also allow to be a solid supporting character. I thought for sure she’d be a quick goner, existing only to be the disposable roommate to prove that Greta wasn’t fucking around, but no—she’s featured throughout, in a substantial and pivotal role to boot. I'd be happy with Greta on those grounds alone; that it's also a twisted thriller that basically exists to let Isabelle Huppert go nuts feels like a bonus, especially since I didn't even know this movie existed until I saw its trailer two months ago.
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