Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz in 2019's "Greta."

Greta March 4, 2019  

DIRECTED BY

Neil Jordan

 

STARRING

Chloë Grace Moretz

Isabelle Huppert

Maika Monroe

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

2019

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 38 Mins.

T

here was a moment, roughly from the end of the 1980s to the early 1990s, when the thriller genre seemed especially fixated on featuring cartoonishly written psychopathic characters as the primary villains. The best-known examples, like Fatal Attraction (1987), Single White Female (1992), and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), though narratively diverging, usually had one thing in common: They would be

centered around hapless protagonists getting involved, romantically or platonically, with a person who eventually proved themselves perilous and obsessive.

 

In Fatal Attraction, the antagonist was a jilted lover; in Single White Female, an unpredictable new roommate; in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, a vengeful nanny. In Neil Jordan’s latest film Greta, an amusing modern-day descendent of these sorts of movies, the villain is the title character — a Frenchwoman in her 60s (Isabelle Huppert) — and the naïve protagonist is a young woman named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz).

 

Greta and Frances meet by chance. When taking the subway one evening, Frances spots a designer handbag left abandoned on a seat. Rather than keep it for herself, as her lively roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) suggests, Frances tracks down the owner, Greta, at her house, a tucked-away bungalow on the edges of New York City, and hands the purse to its rightful owner. They strike up a

conversation.

 

Greta establishes herself as a lonely, single, empty-nester; Frances, whose mother recently died, indicates that she is struggling with her sudden lack of a maternal figure to turn to. Though Greta behaves oddly — at one point she gets up mid-conversation, apropos of nothing, and starts to play the piano — Frances is transfixed. The feeling, seemingly, is mutual. By the end of her visit, she and Greta have traded numbers. A couple of days later, Frances is helping her stand-in mom pick out a dog to keep her company.

 

Their closeness develops unnervingly quickly. Afternoon walks and dinners out become a part of their day-to-day. The intimacy comes to a halt, though, when, while over at Greta’s for supper one night, Frances accidentally opens a cabinet stuffed with handbags identical to the one she found on the subway so many days ago. Sticky notes with names — including hers — are attached to each. Whether the ulterior motive is actually an eccentric, albeit well-intentioned, maneuver to make friends doesn’t matter. Frances cuts Greta out of her life.

 

As was the case with its spiritual forebears, in Greta it’s the cutting-off that shows how much terror and violence the antagonist is capable of kicking up. What begins as reactionary stalking evolves rapidly, rendering Greta an increasingly dangerous and potentially murderous figure. The movie is never exactly frightening per se — so much of the narrative, and the suspenseful motions the characters have to go through, verge on camp. Will there be a scene this year as terrifically soap-operatic as the one where Greta flips over a table at the upper-crust restaurant where Frances works?

 

That Greta loses her cool right after she’s cut off isn’t the only thing Greta shares with its predecessors. Also in common is its assembly of established character types — Greta is a caricatured sadist; Frances is a too-trusting innocent; Erica is a confident sidekick — and an elevated lack of common sense on the protagonist’s part. (But then again, I can’t say I’d act rationally around the hypnotic Isabelle Huppert either.) Though Jordan and co-screenwriter Ray Wright’s script is competent and especially tense as the narrative gets going, nothing ever quite comes alive. Greta is the cinematic equivalent of a crime-thriller page-turner you’d strictly read at the beach: serviceable and diverting — appealing precisely because it’s easy to digest — but forgettable. But you couldn’t have better company than its committed leads. B

This review also appeared in The Daily.