Even with a Formidable Isabelle Huppert, “Greta” Can’t Help but Mine Stalker Clichés
At first, one wonders what on earth such an exquisite actress like Isabelle Huppert is doing in a B-level thriller like Greta. But then, for that matter, why is an Academy Award-winning talent like Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) applying his writing and directing skills to such frothy pulp? The cynic inside you will likely cry out, “Paycheck!” But who knows? Perhaps that was the best project either was offered at the time. Whatever the reason, the presence of such prestige players in this all-too-familiar genre entry doesn’t make up for the film’s multitude of sins, but it does make some of it play a whole helluva lot better than it should. Greta can’t even be called good, but it does have some enjoyable moments attributable to these two talents.
Sadly, this is such well-trodden material that you’ll see most of it coming a mile away. (Huppert’s casting is indeed its only genuine surprise.) From the painfully recognizable plot to its lazy poster, this film echoes far too many similar thrillers from the last 40 years. Once again, a likable but naïve young protagonist becomes involved with an increasingly unstable friend/lover/parental stand-in until the antagonist’s psychosis becomes untenable and forces the two into a duel to the death. Or at least the demise of one of them. It’s not only hokum; it’s pretty ho-hum.
This time out, the central character is a young woman named Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz, striving to be her most wholesome) out to make it on her own in The Big Apple. She refuses help from her well-to-do, businessman father (Colm Feore), yet she still moves into the chic and spacious loft paid for the rich daddy of her roomie. So much for ethics. It helps that Maika Monroe plays Erica, Frances’ BFF. The breakout star of It Follows cleverly infuses her supporting character with a lot of sexy sass that makes her a delight each time she’s onscreen. (Score one for the ingenue and for Jordan in casting her.)
To make her way, Frances waits tables at an elegant Manhattan Side bistro. One day, while riding the subway home from work, she discovers an expensive purse sitting all by its lonesome. It’s posed just so, but ‘Good Samaritan’ Frances doesn’t think anything seems that amiss. Instead, she retrieves the Chanel bag and sets out to return the pricey purse to its rightful owner. That happens to be Greta Hideg (Huppert), a former nurse living in the Village.
Precious little about the haughty Greta suggests that she hails from such a profession, but that is the backstory the script gives her. Instead, both Huppert and Jordan gloss over such incongruities, preferring to present Greta instead as a droll woman of the world, much more Anna Wintour than Florence Nightingale.
Greta is delighted to have her purse returned and quickly strikes up a friendship with the impressionable Frances. A little too conveniently, Frances becomes a stand-in for Greta’s far-away daughter, and Greta becomes the mother figure Frances needs as she’s still mourning the death of her mom. Thus, the two women bond intensely. Then one day, Frances discovers a whole stash of similar purses in Greta’s closet, and she realizes she was duped. Frances tries to back out of the relationship, but the needy Greta wouldn’t let go of her.
Then, all so predictably, Greta turns into an utter monster. She starts stalking Frances with a fervor that would make Glenn Close’s character from Fatal Attraction blush with embarrassment. Greta starts bombarding the young woman’s cellphone with unwanted texts and even stands outside the restaurant watching her for hours on end. Frances screams at her to stop but doesn’t realize that such histrionics only egg on movie psychopaths. Soon, the cat and mouse games between the two women escalate with Greta turning into an unstoppable villain akin to The Terminator.
The rest of the movie ticks a lot of the same boxes that all such ‘stalker’ thrillers do: the ineffectual police, a slow-as-molasses private eye (Jordan stalwart Stephen Rea), and most egregiously, a pet brought into the story merely to be sacrificed. It’s horror by rote, and Jordan and his co-writer Ray Wright should know better.
Still, there are a few delights in this film. Huppert gives her line readings the silken purr of her French accent, and it adds elegance to her menace. Monroe makes you wish she were in the movie far more. And Moretz gives all this pulp her all, almost convincing us to care about the proceedings. Almost.
If being in such mainstream fodder enables Huppert to get hired more then this film has served its purpose. Likewise, if it lands Jordan back in the directing chair more often, yet as is, the film is not memorable or meaningful. At least it’s mercifully short with a running time barely clocking in at one hour and 39 minutes. That’s not bad for a movie that should have at least had the decency to let the dog live that long.
View the trailer of Greta below:
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