Directed by Neil Jordan
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe
Rated R for some violence and disturbing images
1 hr., 38 mins.
You know a film is in trouble when you can guess the outcome based on the bait. In this case, a handbag left on a New York subway. When you can guess the story before the cover’s been blown, you know it’s going to be a long night.
Such is the case with Greta. Despite a great cast, the premise is about as predictable as a subway schedule. This is not to say that there isn’t drama or suspense or even a few surprises, but they aren’t enough to keep this production beyond the mundane. It may be based in New York City, but the production feels much more small time.
Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) lives with her friend Erica Penn (Maika Monroe) in an upscale apartment in New York City. Frances is recovering from the death of her mother to cancer. Her relationship with her workaholic father, Chris McCullen (Colm Feore), is also strained.
Frances works as a waitress in a tony restaurant. While headed home from work, she spots a purse that someone has left on the train. Trying to be a good citizen, she pulls the driver’s license and finds the address of Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert).
When she returns the purse, the two women strike up a friendship. Greta is a piano teacher who is lonely. Her daughter is in Europe and her husband has died. It feels as if Frances and Greta have a bond to share and, much to the consternation of a suspicious Erica, Frances spends less time with her friends and more time getting to know Greta.
That is, until Frances discovers that Greta has a series of identical purses hidden in her cabinet and realizes that she has been lured into a trap. Now Frances can’t escape Greta’s increasingly alarming attention. The woman shows up at work, sends numerous texts and phone calls, and follows Erica home. Greta is like the onset of the flu, increasingly ill and hard to shake.
Irish director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) has created what feels like a bare-bones production of a much more complicated story. As such, you can predict what’s to come, but there’s little in the way of backstory to make sense of Greta’s compulsion to trap young ladies or Frances’s willingness to step naively into a friendship with a complete stranger.
Jordan, who has shown great talent both as a writer and director, seems to be stuck in another movie. Glimpses of other films made by directors such as Hitchcock, Fincher and even Scorsese seem to pop up, scene to scene. There’s not much in the way of original writing or directing in Greta.
The result is a film that unwinds oddly and leaves out some vital parts of the story, particularly when it comes to the development and motivation of Greta. Given Huppert’s sparkling career in films both French and English, it’s surprising that she seems so uninspired. Is this an editing problem, a problem with the screenplay itself or simply a film that lacks inspiration?
Even so, there are some good moments. Moretz creates a sympathetic character. There’s also the performance of Monroe as Moretz’s roommate. Of all the actors in the film, her character feels the most authentic. You can picture her with a bright cinematic future.
Greta feels like less than the sum of its parts. Good moments. Odd moments. Just plain paint-by-number moments. It’s hard to get a handle on what Jordan intended for this film. Perhaps it’s the reason why it was released after the Oscars and probably will go straight to video.
If you’re looking for crazy, check out American Psycho, Fatal Attraction or even the film noir classic The Night of the Hunter. In the case of Greta, you don’t need to repeat this kind of crazy. Been there, done that.