Greta (Ireland/United States, 2019)

March 01, 2019
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Greta Poster

Remember the rash of ‘80s/‘90s thrillers about psycho friends/lovers who turned out to be stalkers? The most prominent of those was probably Fatal Attraction, but it was by no means the only one. Greta seeks to exhume the skeleton of that basic plotline and resurrect it for today’s audiences. For the movie’s first half, director Neil Jordan does a reasonably good job of it. Then, unfortunately, he falls victim to the most dreaded of horror movie clichés: supposedly smart characters doing irredeemably dumb things. As for the plot holes… There’s an expression for a film (“refrigerator movie”) that works in the theater but falls apart during a post-mortem. I’m not sure there’s a similar term for something that falls apart on the spot.

Greta’s protagonist/victim is a young Boston woman, Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), living in New York City with her best friend, Erica (Maika Monroe). One day while riding the subway, naïve Frances comes upon an unattended handbag. Thinking it might have been left behind by a rider, she opens it up, locates the woman’s identity, and arrives at the address on the driver’s license. She is met with enthusiastic gratitude by Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert). Greta is a lonely woman living in a house populated by photographs that hint at a sad past. Her seemingly sincere desire to befriend Frances doesn’t bother the young woman until she makes an alarming discovery. Soon after, Greta’s desperation for a connection becomes suffocating. Her stalkerish behavior puts Frances on edge but she stays within the bounds of the law…until she doesn’t.

For nearly an hour, Jordan builds tension, ratcheting it up with each of Greta’s increasingly warped gambits. The highlight is a well-crafted sequence in which Greta stalks Erica and sends a stream of real-time photos to Frances, who is on the phone with her friend, warning Erica of her peril. As the movie crosses into its second half, however, Greta transforms into a generic villain with seemingly superhuman powers and the story falls back on genre clichés that seemed tired in the ‘80s and haven’t gotten any fresher since then.

At one point during the 1990s following a string of successful movies (the most notable of which was The Crying Game, for which he won a screenwriting Oscar), Jordan flirted with adding his name to the director’s A-list. Since then, however, he has maintained a low-key presence, working more in television than movies. (He was, for example, the creator of and writer for The Borgias.) Although it would be probably unfair to call Greta a “comeback,” it’s the highest-profile motion picture Jordan has made in two decades and will test whether he retains the capacity to rivet audiences.

Isabelle Huppert, who seemingly has no bounds when it comes to the roles she’s willing to play, is suitably creepy as Greta. Even in the early scenes, it’s clear there’s something not right about the woman and Huppert understands just how to play Greta to make her dangerous even when Frances sees her as little more than a lonely, affection-starved woman. Chloe Grace Moretz is bland as Frances. She is outshone and outacted by Maika Monroe (the lead in the underrated horror film It Follows and one of the co-stars of the indie After Everything) even though Monroe has considerably less screen time. One could argue that being the stalker victim in a movie like this is a thankless role but Jamie Lee Curtis might disagree.

It’s a sad commentary on today’s box office that something as generic as Greta represents one of the better entertainment options out there. The film is more frustrating than bad. It’s always disappointing to experience a movie that starts out strongly unravel as the director capitulates with the norms of the genre instead of overcoming or subverting them. In the end, Greta proves to be little more than a B-movie with strong production values and an eclectic cast. Anyone who attends with lowered expectations probably won’t be disappointed, but this is far from Jordan at his best.

Greta (Ireland/United States, 2019)

Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea
Home Release Date: 2019-05-28
Screenplay: Ray Wright and Neil Jordan
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Music: Javier Navarrete
U.S. Distributor: Focus Features
Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2019-03-01
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity)
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1