There is something perversely compelling about Greta, the new film from Neil Jordan. At the same time, there is something far too familiar about the film, a terse obsession thriller.
Perhaps the fascination begins and ends with the inimitable Isabelle Huppert, who literally pirouettes through her pathological, homicidal character. She is the eponymous Greta, a lonely older woman who is discovered by Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz) by way of a lost handbag.
Frances recovers the handbag off the subway and returns it. Friendly Greta invites Frances in for coffee. Greta plays lightly on the piano as she divulges her past. She invites Frances to share, as well. They became unlikely friends.
However, it quickly becomes clear to Frances that Greta is not a stable individual. She attempts to politely cut herself off from Greta, which merely escalates the problem. Greta stalks Frances and her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe), issuing veiled threats and claiming that Frances and she are meant to be.
There is a slick competency to Greta. It is efficiently plotted and relies on visual storytelling, making it a perfect contemporary B-movie. The downside to this B-movie story is that its lack of novelty gives itself away. The script presents itself as tricky, amplifying the stakes as the plot leads to misdirects and false endings.
But a general understanding of this sort of tete-a-tete thriller is all you need in order to see through the twists and shocks. Initially, the mind games of Greta are rather stiff, as far as suspense is concerned. A lot of “she’s right behind you” stings. Come the film’s climax, the will-she-escape conceit promises something more tense, yet the story develops in a commonplace fashion.
You could say there’s something Hitchcockian about the film. You have a macabre psychology at the center of the relationship between Greta and Frances, this concept of a character trying to take the place of another (in this case, a mother). You have an almost hyper-simplistic thriller premise, like that of Psycho.
Unlike Psycho, however, Greta is crutched by its adherence to conventional storytelling. Where Hitchcock keeps the audience on their toes through unconventional choices and a mastery of visual storytelling, Jordan’s Greta lets the air of tension escape with each narrative beat. As we reach a climax and resolution, we easily foresee the next step. We can see the gears turning, the machine at work.
But at least the machine runs smoothly, and some of the cogs have a pretty shine to them. The final act does strike a rhythm that is somewhat hypnotic (a rhythm which is cleverly dictated by a diegetic metronome). Watching Huppert at the height of her character’s madness has its charm, as well.
These aspects are but shiny pebbles of gold in an otherwise muddy pan of genre convention. Beyond Huppert, the acting is surprisingly wooden throughout. The plotting, however expedient, is not particularly substantive. The end result of this plotting is a superfluous picture.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)