There’s a moment early in Greta, the latest from director Neil Jordan’s (The Crying Game, The End of the Affair, Interview with the Vampire), where the title character (played by one of the greatest living actresses on the planet, Isabelle Huppert), hears a great deal of banging around on the other side of her apartment’s walls and, as a result, yells at her neighbors to keep the noise down, blaming their remodeling for the ruckus. Her guest in the scene is a total stranger named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), who found Greta’s handbag on the New York subway and is returning it out of the kindness of her Midwest-born heart. And in that exact moment, I knew everything that was going to transpire—maybe not the details, but the endgame was painfully clear from where I was sitting. As a result, Greta played out as more of a waiting game than a movie, and I grew increasingly impatient as this relatively short film played out.
Does this predictability make Greta a bad movie? Not inherently, no. But it does make it a bit of a tedious exercise, since it takes everyone else in this film—allegedly filled with intelligent characters—forever to figure out how this budding new friendship between Greta and Frances is going to implode almost as soon as it gets off the ground. There’s almost no doubt that Greta isn’t stable and is likely making up a great deal of the backstory she’s telling Frances about her late husband and a daughter in Europe. The only thing we know is true is that Greta is a piano teacher who latches onto Frances and her kind, accepting ways. But the second Frances begins to pull away, Greta starts showing up across the street from the restaurant where she waitresses and just about everywhere else the younger woman is.
I’ll admit that as much as I’ve reveled in so many of Huppert’s roles over the years in which she plays morally compromised or just plain nasty characters, the role of ordinary stalker is simply below her. Eventually, Greta does go from bad to worse, stalking Frances’s roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) and sending fake texts to her father (Colm Feore) letting him think Frances is safe and sound. But even that level of crazy seems so ordinary for a performer of Huppert’s caliber. She looks bored with the obviousness of the proceedings (the screenplay comes courtesy of Ray Wright and Jordan) and the whole film left me feeling a bit embarrassed for her.
Moretz on the other hand has a fairly strong background in genre works (Carrie, Suspiria, Kick-Ass) and adjusts to the low-rent stakes of Greta rather effortlessly. But the rest of the film doesn’t work because it never rises above simply being a tale of extreme bullying, with the aggressor being someone who could pass as a sweet older woman. Everyone involved is capable of better, more sophisticated work. Just because the nature of the film is b-movie doesn’t mean we should expect less from it in terms of its quality or entertainment value. Honestly, this one bored me to tears, even during its weirdest moments, when Greta reveals her truest potential as a tormenter.
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