Greta

US (2018) Dir. Neil Jordan

Making friends is hard for some people, especially if they are getting on a bit and their family is no longer with them. They crave company and welcome any sort of human contact when it comes their way, which sometimes might be construed as them being a bit needy. But is there such a thing as going too far in holding onto a new friend?

Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young waitress living in New York, finds a designer handbag left on a subway train which she takes home with her as the lost property department was closed. Whilst her flatmate Erica (Maika Monroe) wanted to keep the bag, Frances insists it is returned to its rightful owner, whom she learns is French widow Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert).

The lonely Greta is overjoyed to be reunited with her bag and invites Frances in, where they hit it off, since her daughter is in Paris. When Frances discovers a load of handbags with missing girl’s names on them in Greta’s cupboard and decides to end it with her. Greta doesn’t take this rejection easily, beginning with endless phone calls and stalking Frances in a nightmare scenario for Frances.

Sometimes one doesn’t have to be completely original with their plots if they can offer something competent in other areas of its presentation, which is where Greta is able to boast some superiority over similar fair. In this case it is the presence of French legend Isabelle Huppert in a rare English-speaking role and a taut, briskly paced script that unashamedly plays to the gallery but does so with panache.

One area where this is evident is in the three main characters are all strong women and the men are ineffective milquetoast, though this really shouldn’t be an issue in the first place. However, it works so much better having a female stalker as well as putting pressure on writer-director Neil Jordan to construct his story without having to rely on the typical sexual intentions of male stalker in framing Greta’s behaviour.

Greta may be lonely but isn’t a helpless, grey haired old eccentric so out of touch with the world that her eventual clinginess is misplaced dependency. She is clearly a refined and capable woman, a former nurse turned piano teacher, and isn’t housebound by evidence of leaving her bag on the train. By welcoming Frances in for a thank you cup of coffee is an act with two meanings – hospitality and taking advantage of human contact, therefore nothing too sinister to read into.

Her being a foreign national might be to cover Huppert’s natural French accent despite her English being perfect, but one could also see this as the tired Hollywood stereotype of foreigners being a threat to the Good Ol’ USA. Greta is not the only one missing a family – Frances lost her mother cancer a year before and is at odds with her workaholic father Chris (Colm Feore), whom she feels has moved on too quickly.

We may see where this is going – one of the setbacks is how close to the formula the script sticks – but so far everything is played as mutual companionship with one filling the hole in the other’s life. It starts with Frances helping Greta buy a dog and in return, she gives France’s cooking lessons, until that fateful night where Frances discovers the glut of bags in the cupboard.

Erica gets to say “I told you so” when Frances calls time on her friendship with Greta but it doesn’t end there, beginning with the barrage of phone calls and text messages. I get dramatic licence and all but in real life, anybody with a scintilla of common sense would block someone’s number and delete them from their phone, but this would leave a gap in the storyline regarding Greta’s campaign against Frances.

As mentioned earlier the plot beats are literally waiting to be ticked off, from the police being unable/unwilling to do anything, to Greta making almost impossible inroads in freaking out Frances whilst remaining incognito, to the eventual kidnapping. Apologies for the spoiler, but it’s not as if anybody didn’t see it coming in the first place. Jordan has a tough challenge in trying to make this fresh and compelling, and manages to inject a few interesting bespoke touches otherwise it’s business as usual.   

If Greta isn’t going to reinvent the wheel then what does have to offer? The answer, to reiterate, is Isabelle Huppert. Unquestionably campy in places, Huppert throws herself into the scenes where Greta’s descent into madness is almost comical – her gaily dancing across the room having just committed murder is poetic whimsy yet she pulls it off in a way nobody else could. Greta’s gradual transformation from helpless loner to disturbed sociopath is wonderfully nuanced yet just intense enough to be believable.

Deserving credit as Greta’s foil is Chloë Grace Moretz, her natural sad eyed appearance a boon in making Frances a sympathetic victim. Moretz maybe a veteran at a young age but there is a maturity in her acting that benefits a role like this where others, like co-star Maika Monroe, would tend to overreact. Her chemistry with Huppert is such that if Moretz was overwhelmed working alongside her, she doesn’t show it.

Neil Jordan doesn’t just rely on his capable leads to carry the film, he creates some tangible moments of suspense and genuine terror that sit just outside the norm to give things a lift from being just another stalker thriller. The script allows everyday technology to be used as a tool for menace and fear whilst the nature of the story gives way to some neat misdirection to keep the audience guessing.

Greta is an easy watch if you go with it and don’t question the niggling details (like why did nobody else pick up the bag before Frances?), driven by Huppert’s peerless mastery of her craft and Jordan’s genre satisfying direction.

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