Stalker movies often live or die off the performance of the stalker, whether the actor can convey enough crazy to put us on edge but not so much that we see right through them. 2015’s The Gift is a great example of this, as writer-director-star Joel Edgerton is juuuuust a tiny bit off in his persona to make us wonder what he’s got going on underneath that goatee of his. 2011’s The Roommate on the other hand is a great example of what not to do, as it straps the generally likable but in this case horribly outmatched Leighton Meester with the bulk of everything that is wrong with the story, the underdeveloped, silly story. Here with Greta, we’re given an actor more than up to snuff to play a psycho stalker in that of Isabelle Huppert, who, despite the film being entirely lackluster around her, is actually the best part of it. Here she teams with writer-director Neil Jordan, whom many would know from helming Best Picture nominee The Crying Game in 1992, though I hold him in high regard for his work on one of my favorite vampire movies – no, not Interview with the Vampire, though he did do that too – Byzantium. And while he does get some good licks in whilst filming this sleek psychological thriller, it’s his confoundingly nonsensical screenplay that dooms the film to mediocrity. Not only that, but it’s shamelessly threadbare in its depiction of major characters whose intentions are vital to the story. All things considered, this should have been at least a guilty pleasure movie, but a script that feels like a first draft lets down all the good work that was done to give it life.
Greta follows young waitress Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), who one day discovers a lost handbag on a subway train. Upon discovering the owner’s address after searching its contents, she returns it to French widow Greta Hideg (Isabelle Hupert). After pitying Greta and succumbing to her kindly nature, Frances finds herself making friends with Greta, even going so far as to prefer her company over that of her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe). One day, however, while over at Greta’s house, Frances discovers a plethora of identical handbags each with a girl’s name sticky-noted to it, one of which is her own. Startled and confused as to the true nature of their relationship, Frances cuts ties with Greta. Greta, on the other hand, is not done with Frances, as she proceeds to interrupt her daily life with persistent stalking. Unable to escape Greta’s presence, Frances fears she will soon know all-too-well what Greta has planned.
I prefer non-spoiler reviews, at least for those niche films that would otherwise fall under the radar, but boy do I want to get down and dirty with this one. There are so many leaps in logic that had me squinting my eyebrows throughout to the point that what should be boiled down to a simple cat-and-mouse game suddenly becomes an exercise in the inane. Again, you’ll just have to take me at my word with this one, but there were so many times when the film simply expected the viewer to see Greta as this omniscient, unstoppable, limitless force of obsession that it eschews all logic. One of my least favorite clichés is when a protagonist has a moment wherein they’re trading glances with a threatening character across the street, only for that character to be lost behind a passing vehicle and then disappear just as quickly. It’s cheap and nonsensical and fortunately Greta doesn’t actually do this, but it might as well have. In fact, there was a scene where I was waiting for it to. Still, there are moments of the same variety, ones that only raise more questions than the movie has time to answer. Not only that, but on multiple occasions does it seem like there was a snippet of a scene that was left on the cutting room floor, making us dispute how exactly we got from point A to point B. All of the above makes me think the production – not to mention the story – wasn’t as mapped out as one would hope.
Yet Neil Jordan does remain a very stylish filmmaker. Greta is all very slick and polished, having the right aesthetic to suit the genre and mise en scéne. Much of which contributing to my initial excitement for the movie. The editing and the story structure are uneven and ultimately let him down – as if he didn’t write the thing too – resulting in a film that is pretty to look at but otherwise ordinary and without depth. Speaking of Jordan, something a cinephile will find noteworthy is The Crying Game star Stephen Rea making his umpteenth collaboration with the Irish director. His part has absolutely zero impact on the story – despite what the score would lead you to believe – making me liken it to a certain segment in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Anywhosers, Isabelle Huppert steals the show – rightly so – providing just the right touch of crazy to actually sell the plot on a superficial level. Again, I think the script lets her down in providing too little of a window into the mind of its antagonist and eponymous character, but Huppert wears it with aplomb. On the other side of the equation, Chloë Grace Moretz doesn’t do a bad job either, able to play incredulous against Huppert’s insanity like the goings back and forth of a seesaw. Between this and last fall’s Suspiria, she might have a future in the thriller genre, even though her career up to this point has been impressively eclectic and without classification. Meanwhile, those who remember Maika Monroe from the horror hit It Follows should take particular enjoyment out of a specific scene here, nonsensical as it is.
You’d think with a title Greta the character in question would be rich in backstory and nuance and unpredictability, but nope. Instead Jordan seems more interested in taking us down a road we’ve been before, only making it a little more refined on the production side of things. Oh well. Seriously though, don’t watch Interview with the Vampire, it’s about as dreary as the book.
Final Score: 4/10