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Neil Jordan’s Greta is a film that doesn’t need to do too much to be considered successful. It has a very simple premise that inherently comes with everything it needs to excite an audience, and really just needs to be put together properly with the right intentions to function. Obviously that still leaves plenty of latitude for error and unfortunate choices – one’s we’ve seen plenty of times in similar features - but fortunately, this is a case where those don’t overwhelm. Instead, it’s a fun thriller with a couple of engaging performance and legitimately shocking moments that doesn’t blow you away, but also does enough to keep you entertained for most of two hours.
Based on an original screenplay by Ray Wright and Neil Jordan, Greta begins centered on Frances McCullen (Chloe Moretz), a kind young woman from Boston who is trying to start her adult life living in New York City. One day while taking the subway home from work she discovers a green purse left behind on one of the seats, and being the good person that she is, she takes it with the intent of returning it to its owner. As it turns out, it belongs to Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), a lonely aging French woman who lives in the neighborhood.
Having just recently lost her mother and being in a somewhat sensitive emotional state, Frances starts up a friendship with Greta, hoping to make her feel less lonely – despite constant protests from Frances’ roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe), who is weirded out by the whole thing. It turns out that this is a proper instinct, though, as it’s not long before things start getting more and more intense. As time goes on, Greta becomes increasingly obsessive and possessive, eventually revealing some terrifying secrets that show she is far from the innocent old woman you think she is at the start.
With its high-concept thriller plot, the name of the game in Greta is escalation, and it’s arguably what both makes and kind of breaks the movie – in that it very much shines in its pulpier moments, but drags when it resists pushing things too far. If you’re conscious of what the plot is going in, then you’re prepared for Greta essentially being a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, and results ultimately present a bit of a mixed bag. As much as you want the film to have a greater sense of self-awareness, it’s never fully willing to cross the razor-thin line that separates thriller and horror, and leaves you wanting in that respect. It is satisfying enough with the level of scary crazy that Isabelle Huppert reaches, but at the same time you leave wishing that it had gone a few steps further.
It’s noteworthy that this is definitely more of an approach problem than an actor problem, as the performances delivered by Greta’s two leads keep you engaged and absorbed even when the script proves to be a bit faulty at times. Frances as a character, for starters, presents a bit of a challenge given that naivety can sometimes translate as innocent stupidity, but Chloe Moretz injects her turn with enough empathy and understanding to not only keep you rooting for her throughout the story, but appropriately concerned about her ability to survive. There are definitely some moments in the narrative where she makes some extremely wrong choices, but the movie can get away with them because there is an understanding that Frances’ heart is in the right place.
As you would expect, though (it’s in the title, after all), the real star of the show here is Isabelle Huppert, who really does pull off a magnificent mounting malevolency as the movie plays out its creepy tale. At the start it’s very easy to see what Frances sees in Greta, as she appears sweet, nice, and simply desperate for company, but as the story progresses it’s also great to see how much fun the actress has taking the character off the rails – later in the film hitting some nice crazy peaks flipping tables in restaurants and slowly dancing by herself around a violence-filled living room. We’re not exactly seeing the birth of a new horror icon, but it’s legitimately exciting to see such a talented veteran capture something so manic.
Given the current pop culture climate and the heat possessed by the horror genre, it feels like Greta could have been a lot more, and it’s a bit of a disappointment in that regard – but it’s not a total disappointment. There is still enough here to have it qualify as a solid bit of entertainment, with a handful of moments that do stand out in your head and send some nice chills down your spine. It’s just also not a film that you are going to recall in full detail a year from now.