Film Review – Greta
Greta (2018) is a nasty bit of fun. Directed and co-written by Neil Jordan (with Ray Wright) this is the story of a young woman named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) who – almost by accident – befriends an older woman named Greta (Isabelle Huppert). But what starts out as two people trying to find companionship in New York City soon turns into a dark and sinister tale of obsession and bloodshed. Jordan, not afraid to take the material to gonzo heights, pulls no punches in the way he develops (or should we say, “tears down?”) this friendship in increasingly demented – but entertaining – fashion.
The narrative puts a different twist in the “stalker” plot. Often, the stalker usually has a sexual motivation, whether it’s the scorned lover, jealous boyfriend, or betrayed mistress. Think of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female (1992), Mark Wahlberg in Fear (1996), or Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (1987). Jordan plays it differently by removing the sexual aspect and creating the tension between Frances and Greta on a more familial level. The dynamic between the two is more on a mother/daughter playing field, but no less manic.
The character development for both is just good enough to explain why they would connect. Frances – wanting to make her own way in the big city – has enough small town naïveté to return a lost purse to a woman she does not know, despite the warnings of her best friend and roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe). For Greta, we learn of a turbulent family history and a daughter that has long since disappeared from her life. The introduction of Frances gives her a person to care for, to be the mother that she once wasn’t. Only when Frances realizes that Greta’s kindness has a devious layer beneath does she try to escape her presence. But in thrillers such as this, it’s not easy to get rid of someone who has shifted their full focus onto them.
The tension builds up in a rather conventional manner. Frances tries to ignore Greta’s numerous phone calls and text messages, but soon Greta starts showing up outside of her work and home. One hilarious bit has Greta standing outside of Frances’ workplace for hours on end, from daylight to night time. Stalkers have to eat and sleep sometime, right? Another scene has Greta stalking Erica in a nightclub, texting photos to Frances to show her how close she’s getting to her friend. I suppose this sequence is meant to terrify us, but the execution comes off awkwardly as Frances receives a text and calls Erica, only to have Erica turn around in circles trying to find Greta. It’s as though Greta has the magical ability to teleport herself from place to place just so that she can get the perfect photo angle.
However clumsy these moments are, Greta does get much better the further into the plot we go. As Greta’s dementia increases, her actions become more erratic and unpredictable. Isabelle Huppert is clearly having a ball here, really leaning into her performance with glee. Greta starts off as a seemingly well adjusted, albeit lonely person. But the more we learn of her dark secrets, she switches from mother to monster with ease. Huppert moves around with a kind of airiness to her step, as though she were some living specter. When she commits a fiendish act, she’ll follow it up with a crazy, balletic dance amplifying how far gone she is. It’s a wonderful performance that only gets better as it goes along.
In comparison, Chloë Grace Moretz doesn’t have the opportunity to play as broad of a character, and thus Frances is relegated to the straight person of the duo. The writing and directing attempts to add dimension to her by including a father (Colm Feore) that she becomes disconnected with, but this aspect is so lightly touched upon that it doesn’t amount to much. Frances has a much stronger relationship with Erica, who acts as a surrogate sister. Maika Monroe (who we’ve seen in work such as It Follows and The Guest) creates plenty of nuance in Erica despite the limited screen time. Although the idea of her letting Frances befriend someone under such perilous circumstances stretches plausibility a tad, the connection between Erica and Frances does seem to come from an honest place.
Greta delves into some blood deep into the second half. Interestingly enough, this is where it operates at its best. Instead of simply hinting at how crazy Greta is, Jordan pays off the potential by revealing how far she is willing to go to keep certain people in her clutches. The resolution once again defies logic (I mean, New York is a big city), but there’s enough fun going on here to forgive that. This is a perfect example of how a villain can sometimes be more interesting than a hero, and seeing them do bad things oddly a joy to watch.