Updated: Feb 8, 2020
Greta is a suspense thriller that begins like a coming of age drama. However, it never really intends to throw us off the scent. The opening scenes seem to be about the new friendship between a grieving young woman and a lonely older woman, yet it is clear almost immediately there is something wrong with the title character. This is not a mystery. We know who is doing what and the why is not so difficult to figure out. Instead, it is a generally well-crafted thriller that skillfully holds its suspense before paying it off in ways that are occasionally unexpected. Despite a final act that is a little too drawn out, this is an enjoyable take on the stalker movie.
Frances has recently moved to New York after the death of her mother. One day, she finds a bag on a subway train and decides to return it. That is how she meets Greta. They instantly hit it off, each of them filling a hole in the other’s life. That is until Frances discovers Greta left the bag on purpose, to lure in an unsuspecting good samaritan. When Frances tries to end their friendship, she learns Greta is not so easy to get rid of.
Greta (94 minutes without the end credits) can be pretty ridiculous, but one of its biggest strengths is that Frances mostly behaves like a reasonable person. Every time I thought to myself “why doesn’t she do ______?” she did it! Though she may be naïve, she is not an idiot. That grounds it (slightly). The emotions are relatable, even if the situations are not. For the most part, I struggled to care about the plot. But individual sequences worked on me (the scene involving Greta sending Frances a series of pictures on her phone was especially effective). That is a credit to director/cowriter Neil Jordan, who leans into the craziness, creating a horror story based on isolation and kindness. It is also a credit to the actresses, who do not allow themselves to get overwhelmed by the over-the-top nature of the proceedings.
This is a very single-minded screenplay. It is not about Frances growing up or learning how to move on. It is simply about the depths of Greta’s obsession. Although Frances gets the most screen time, she is a static character. Who she is at the beginning is basically still who she is at the movie’s conclusion. Chloë Grace Moretz plays her like a scared child trying to use reason to survive a nightmare. She is the straight-woman. She is fine, if mostly secondary. The majority of the entertainment value comes from Isabelle Huppert as the deeply disturbed Greta.
As usual in this genre, the intrigue comes not from the hero, but in seeing what lengths the villain will go to in order to get what they want. In this case, she just wants a friend. Unlike Moretz, Huppert never tries to make Greta seem “real.” She is driven by one thing: she is lonely and will do absolutely anything for companionship. Greta takes this premise in wild directions and Huppert has an equally outrageous amount of fun following it there. Greta is a plot device more than an actual character and Huppert turns her into a force of nature. The whole thing would have fallen apart if the actress playing Greta took her seriously. Huppert most certainly does not. She stalks, menaces and even dances with a gleam in her eye. It is fun to watch her having fun.
Greta is a psychological thriller light on logic, but somewhat exciting. It is well-made, well-paced and features a delightfully unhinged central performance. There is nothing deep or meaningful going on here. It is not high art, however, it is reasonably entertaining trash.
3¼ out of 5
Chloë Grace Moretz as Frances McCullen
Isabelle Huppert as Greta Hideg
Maika Monroe as Erica Penn
Colm Feore as Chris McCullen
Directed by Neil Jordan
Screenplay by Ray Wright and Neil Jordan