Greta is one of those thrillers that shouldn’t be nearly as entertaining as it is. This shlocky, by the numbers stalker horror film is something you’d expect to see on television in the middle of the night. It’s completely predictable, lacks any solid scares, and can even be tonally inconsistent, but damn if I didn’t have a good time with this one.
Directed by Neil Jordan, Greta follows the story of Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young girl living in New York City with her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe). One day Frances discovers a pocketbook on the subway and decides to return it to the owner, Greta (Isabelle Huppert).
The two quickly become friends, (with Greta serving as a surrogate mother for Frances) but a horrific discovery drives a wedge between the two. What follows is a series of events where Greta continues to stalk Frances, becoming increasingly more psychotic with each scene.
The film’s greatest strength is undoubtedly its cast. Chloe Grace Moretz delivers a near-perfect performance as Frances. Her relationship with different characters feels real and she has terrific chemistry with the rest of the cast. There’s a lot of emotions that Moretz is asked to juggle, especially in the latter half of the film when Greta’s story takes a hard turn. However, Frances does suffer from some dumb story decisions to artificially produce tension and stretch the run time.
There’s also a subplot revolving around her father and how he moved on after the death of his wife. Greta spends quite a bit of time establishing how both sides feel about Frances’ mother’s death, but the story thread is never resolved. Once the third act kicks in, her dad just completely vanishes. We never get a resolution or payoff to this story, which is odd given how her relationship with adults is the central driving force of Frances hanging around with Greta. You can definitely tell there was more to this movie that was cut out, especially since the film just abruptly finishes.
A lot of this stems from Greta’s story which can be divided into two distinct chunks. Everything seems pretty standard until the halfway point when Greta throws caution to the wind and goes for broke. It’s a risky decision, but the strong performances sell some of the movie’s darker moments. The second half of Greta certainly the stronger and part of me wishes the film just started at the midway point. Given most of the movie up until the midpoint is just Greta watching Frances or repeatedly calling her, the shift in tone is a breath of fresh air.
In fact, most of the film’s first half is fairly tedious and uninspiring. You can tell that Jordan just going through the motions until he can get to the “good part” of Greta. Most of the fear is non-existent and a lot of tension comes from how unsettling Huppert’s staredown face is. The movie also makes a big song and dance about how inept the police are in stalking cases and you want Greta to just sink its teeth a little deeper into this subject. It never does.
Greta’s biggest issue is how lean and chopped down parts of the script feel. This could have been a truly mesmerizing and terrifying film, but the movie has been chopped down to the bone. While the core is still intact, anything of substance outside of the superficial thrills is gone.
Thankfully, Huppert carries this movie on her shoulders. Her performance of Greta is commanding and Huppert is clearly gamer for anything Jordan throws at her. Once the film kicks into high gear, Greta transforms from a simple nuisance to a force of nature. She’s absolutely terrifying in the second half, yet Huppert still manages to find some humanity in Greta. The film wisely never tries to make Greta seem tragic, but there is a logic behind her madness.
Unraveling her web of lies and fears produces some of the best scenes in the movie. You can tell Huppert is almost having too much fun in the role. There are quite a few knowing winks to the audience, especially when you learn how insane this woman actually is. She brings a ton of energy to the role and any lesser actress would have buckled under the weight of Greta’s zaniness.
Greta is at its best when embracing the weird, twisted, and dark story that claws its way to the surface a little over halfway in. Even though the film lacks any good scares, Huppert’s performance sells how dire Frances’s situation actually is. This is a textbook example of how a strong cast can elevate a normally mediocre film. While the movie still has some noticeable issues, it’s still a rather enjoyable 90 minutes. Just don’t expect to remember Greta after you leave the theater.