It’s always difficult to ascertain just how much of a film, especially one that initially presents itself as a thriller, drama, or horror, is actually trying to be funny and is aware of its own ridiculousness, poor quality writing and plot points. This is the case in Neil Jordan’s Greta. As things get increasingly intense, the more one is tempted to laugh. It’s hard not to feel guilty doing so though, unsure if that was the intended reaction until the film firmly embraces the camp here and unleashes the crazy. As Isabelle Huppert does a joyful little dance after committing a gruesome act of violence the viewer finally knows what they are in for. And it’s delicious.
At its core the film is a thriller about a stalker and her victim. Chloe Grace Moretz plays the latter, a young woman called Frances who has recently moved to New York with her best friend and works as a waitress at an upscale restaurant. She’s your classic ‘too-nice-and-naive-for-her-own-good’ girl which is why when she finds a lone purse on the subway she decides to return it to the woman’s home after fishing out the ID.
There she meets Greta (legendary actress Isabelle Huppert), a friendly and kind, though rather lonely, French woman. Having recently lost her own mother, Frances allows herself to be pulled into a friendship with Greta. However, she soon discovers Greta is not so sweet or harmless as she appears and has been manipulating her. She attempts to banish her from her life, but finds Greta will not be ignored or disrespected. She begins stalking Frances and it becomes apparent that this deluded obsession has potentially deadly consequences.
Huppert is the biggest asset the film has and elevated the production. She’s one of the screen’s greatest and most admired actresses, which is why it’s so enjoyable to witness her take on a role like this. And she goes fully in, committed to going fully psycho and revelling in the horror of her character. It’s a blast (sometimes a very frightening one) to watch her take on the role of a villain in what is more less a B-movie thriller from 90s.
Based on its description, one might expect something like last year’s thrilling and horrific Unsane, that’s not really the case here, though there are some moments of outright horror later. The film takes a more absurd and campy approach. The problem is that it isn’t made clear until we’re quite far into the film’s (lengthy) run-time. For so long it just comes across as a badly scripted attempt at a genuine thriller. The pacing is a bit off with a drawn-out setup, and also affords us zero depth into the main character. The only things we ever learn about Frances is that she has a wealthy best friend (an energetic Maika Monroe, who acts as a wonderful counterpart to Greta when it comes to female relationships), a dead mother, and daddy issues. There’s not even a cursory monologue to tell us her dreams or why she moved to NY. And the dialogue itself is just plain corny and awkward at times. Much of the story line is just flat out implausible too when you apply logic.
It almost seems pointless to list and lament the film’s flaws though. It has problems and on an objective level is not very good. Yet, it’s also fun, campy, gutsy, memorable, and genuinely horrific in moments. Once the film really gets going and allows itself and Huppert to go fully bananas it’s supremely entertaining. As long as you’re aware that this isn’t an intelligent, dark suspenseful film a la David Fincher, and come prepared for something trashier and messier. You can already tell Jordan and his cast and crew are aiming for cult status with this one rather than critical acclaim. And frankly, that’s just as good and worthy a goal and one this film just might be able to achieve.
by Jennifer Verzuh
Jennifer Verzuh is a writer who’s spent the past year and a half traveling across the US working at film festivals after graduating college, where she studied literature and film production. Some of her favorite movies are Carol, Ida, Jackie & Nashville. You can follow her on Twitter at @20thcenturywmn or letterboxd.