There’s a long Hollywood history of thrillers in which random strangers innocently insert themselves into the lives of our protagonists and then expose the fact that they are psychos. The subgenre peaked in the 80s and 90s when titles like The Crush, Fatal Attraction and Single White Female raked in big money and even greater notoriety, but in recent years its popularity has fizzled out. These days it lives on in infrequent (and often meek) entries like 2011’s The Roommate or in the complementary “vengeful psycho ex” film such as Obsessed and The Perfect Guy.
Leave it to esteemed art house director Neil Jordan to try and inject some life – and class – back into the proceedings. The creative mind behind notorious blockbusters like The Crying Game and Interview with The Vampire digs deep into the Freudian sandbox for his latest film Greta, starring the unlikely pairing of Chloë Grace Moretz and French icon Isabelle Huppert.
Frances (Grace Moretz) is a fresh-faced newcomer to New York. She’s rooming with Erica (genre vet Maika Monroe) in an amazing open concept loft that only people in the movies can afford, working at a fancy seafood restaurant and learning to navigate the city. Frances is also slightly estranged from her father (Colm Feore) following the death of her mother from cancer – he is concerned about her, but all Frances yearns for is freedom and independence.
One day Frances discovers a lost purse on the subway and, despite Erica’s insistence that they treat themselves to a spa/colonic with the contents, Frances elects to return the item in person. She winds up striking up an unlikely friendship with Greta (Huppert), a lonely widower who appears kind, but also a little odd.
It’s no spoiler to confirm that Greta is not what she appears. The older woman begins to ingratiate herself into Frances’ life (a fact that perplexes and bothers Erica), slowly at first and then increasingly making demands on her time. One night during a dinner at Greta’s house, Frances makes a shocking discovery that prompts her to sever ties with the older woman, which sets in motion the main plot of the film as Greta stalks, harasses and threatens Frances at home and at work.
As the titular character, Huppert completely steals the show. Greta is a deranged, neurotic villain posing in plain sight as a kindly old woman. Half of the fun of Greta is watching Huppert’s obvious delight at performing unsavoury acts. This is especially true in the final act of the film when Greta reveals her full crazy intentions and the violence begins to escalate. The film’s highlight is a scene with Huppert involving a gun, a body and a little dancing and it is so amazingly ridiculous that it’s almost worth the price of admission.
As lead, Grace Moretz is unfortunately far less engaging. She seems to be aiming for wide-eyed innocent and lands instead on either sleepwalking or histrionic. Frances is so bland that it is hard to understand why Greta would become dangerously obsessed with her.
It is especially difficult when Frances is compared to Erica. Maika Monroe essentially steals the film out from under her co-star by making Erica imminently likeable, sarcastic and a little flirty. At one point Greta begins sending Frances a series of photographs of Erica while the latter is drinking alone at the bar, prompting a “chase by text” sequence as Frances desperately tries to guide her roommate to safety. Later Erica, examining Greta’s pictures of her, comments how attractive she looks and compliments the stalker for taking a good photo. It’s this kind of quip that makes Erica so much more enjoyable to watch than Frances.
Greta’s biggest failure, however, is the film’s reluctance to fully embrace its full camp potential. These kinds of films benefit from being as outlandish as possible and while there are a few delightfully silly moments (and one truly kick ass moment of gore involving a mundane kitchen utensil), they’re too few and far between. The body count is also surprisingly low, which is unusual for the subgenre in comparison to earlier iterations, which would have had the guts to knock off at least a few more characters.
As it stands, Greta simply isn’t frightening enough to be a great horror film, and it’s not campy enough to be a guilty pleasure. Greta could have been great fun – and a much stronger film – had it leaned into its genre origins. Instead it’s just so-so, despite a very game Isabelle Huppert.