Directed by Neil Jordan / 2018
Greta is a tense and exciting psychological thriller co-written and directed by Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview With the Vampire). Though Jordan’s films often utilize elements of myth and fantasy, Greta forgoes the fantastic in place of a more grounded, yet melodramatic, suspense story. He sets aside many of the recurring thematic elements that have appeared throughout his diverse filmography, and simply sets his sights on delivering the goods. And Jordan does, for with Greta, he has made a finely crafted genre piece. It may lack any pretensions to art, but from where I was sitting, on the edge of my seat, I didn’t seem to notice.
Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick Ass, Suspiria) plays Frances, a young woman who has recently moved to New York City. Despite coming from Boston, Frances hasn’t quite settled into the rhythms of big city living yet, and despite living with her friend Erica (Maika Monroe), she’s feeling isolated and alone. Frances also still keenly feels the loss of her mother, who died the year before, further compounding her sense of alienation. Moretz doesn’t have the film’s showiest role (and we’ll be getting to that one in a moment), but she projects the right mixture of vulnerability and vigor once things start going south for her.
The real scene stealer here is the eponymous Greta Hideg, played with verve by Isabelle Huppert (Elle, The Nun). Frances comes into Greta’s orbit when the young woman finds a lost handbag on the subway, and returns it to its owner who seems to be a recently widowed woman who is dealing with the same feelings of isolation as Frances has. The two begin spending more and more time together, and are on the verge of becoming real friends- until Frances accidently opens the wrong pair of cupboard doors and discovers Greta’s secret.
After that, things fly off the rails quickly as Frances wants to cut Greta out of her life and Greta becomes more and more unhinged as she fights to stay in it. You get the sense early on that this woman is capable of doing anything (How long was she standing in the street just glaring at the restaurant where Frances works?). Huppert is having a blast playing the title character. It really is the type of role that actors must love to get, since they can play it all restrained and internally at the start, and by the end be all up in the rafters with the crazy.
Jordan keeps his story moving along at a brisk pace. Not quite fast enough to keep some of the cracks in the story from showing- has Frances never heard of call blocking? There’s a fake out at the start of the third act that runs a little too long. Similarly, a big reveal at the end is shot in such a way that observant viewers should be able to guess what’s coming long before Jordan plays his hand. But none of this really detracts from the overall experience of the film. Greta belongs to the same family tree as Psycho or Misery. It freely borrows elements of both- if the name Arbogast doesn’t go through your mind when you see Stephen Rea’s detective approaching Greta’s apartment, you don’t know your movies! It’s not a strong a movie as either of those two predecessors, and its far from Jordan’s best work, but it’s still a fun and suspenseful piece of filmmaking in its own right.