Now that we’ve reached the cultural recycling of all things 1990s, it was almost inevitable for Hollywood to revisit the trend of stalker based psychological thrillers, which were so prevalent towards the beginning of that decade (Single White Female, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, etc.). Sure enough, along comes Greta: a shameless throwback to the much-maligned “x from Hell!” high-concept thrillers.
The eponymous Greta is played by French film icon Isabelle Huppert, who seems to be having the time of her life. Greta is a lonely, widowed piano teacher who one day appears to have misplaced her handbag on a New York subway. To her good fortune, Frances, a new-in-town Good Samaritan played by Chloë Grace Moretz, finds said bag and sees to it that it and Greta are reunited.
From there, a friendship is forged, but it doesn’t take long before Greta’s fondness starts to take on an altogether more sinister tone.
As with its promotional material and trailers, the film makes little effort to hide the direction in which its story is headed. Anyone remotely savvy in the genre will know from the first shot just the type of person that Greta is initially pretending she isn’t, and it’s to the film’s credit that it more or less gets stuck into the conventions pretty quickly off the mark.
The theme of the unconventional relationship has remained consistent in director Neil Jordan’s work to date, and along with co-writer Ray Wright, he brings that familiarity to Greta’s quasi-maternal affection for Frances to great effect. The energy with which the film’s title role is written is frustratingly lacking elsewhere though, and for a film that feels as knowing as this, the end product feels imbalanced.
For a film with so many promising parts – the pedigree of director Neil Jordan, and a great supporting cast with experience in genre cinema to name a couple – it is a rather disappointing sum. Of course there are moments of brilliance: Isabelle Huppert’s turn as Greta is played with joyous abandon. Huppert is more than game throughout the film, and Jordan gives her ample room to chew the scenery from the start.
It’s certainly entertaining to watch, though the resulting performance feels more played for laughs than screams, and Huppert’s scenery chewing leaves Greta feeling more likeable than the writers may have been aiming for.
By making the antagonist such a magnetic presence, the film’s unfortunate casualty as a result is Chloë Grace Moretz’s performance as Frances. Moretz, who was so good in The Miseducation of Cameron Post, is only ever required to react to Isabelle Huppert’s presence in different locations; she does it well, but it feels like she’s wasted here. Frances is meant to be our way into Greta’s twisted life, but it’s a role written without any agency given to her. As a result she seems uncharacteristically out of depth against her co-stars.
While the film’s story does take some interesting turns as things unfold, Greta‘s latter half is drawn out to the point where it feels about 20 minutes too long. The third act jumps right into the camp nonsense that Huppert’s performance had been swimming in up to that point, and it’s certainly entertaining, but after what feels like an age getting there, it’s a climax that doesn’t feel particularly earned.
The greatest compliment I can lend Greta is that, for the most part, it kept my attention while it was on. However, unlike its central character, the film is surprisingly easy to shake off once the credits have rolled.