Greta is a strange chimera of a movie. It’s written and directed by the mind behind cinematic classic The Crying Game, a movie that brilliantly melded the genres of thriller and romance together. It stars the renowned French actress Isabelle Huppert in a rare English-speaking role. Its trailers promise psychological intrigue, shocking acts of torture, and disturbing mysteries coming to light. And yet, despite all these scintillating factors, Greta is rarely what it promises to be.
The movie is named after a lonely widow who leaves her handbag on a New York City subway train. Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young waitress who’s new to the city, finds the handbag and resolves to return it to its rightful owner. That’s how she meets Greta (Isabelle Huppert), who is desperate for a friend after the passing of her husband and departure of her daughter. Frances decides to be that friend and begins spending her days with the sweet old woman, no matter how much it distracts her from her dream of—uh, doing something in New York City.
We don’t really get to know Frances. She’s not written to have a personality beyond “naïve girl that bad things happen to”, which seems emblematic of thriller clichés until you meet Frances’ roommate and realize the actual problem: writer/director Neil Jordan does not know how to write women. It’s like Jordan went to a New York bar, hit on a woman who was minding her own business, got turned down, and thought, “these New York women are so sexual and self-obsessed”—and then took his misogynistic frustrations and channeled them into the character of Frances’ roommate. It’s a shame that talented actress Maika Monroe is wasted on such a vapid character.
We don’t really get to know Greta either. The movie develops the friendship between Greta and Frances for a grand total of ten minutes before revealing that Greta’s not just a sweet old woman. After that, the majority of the movie entails Greta stalking Frances while Frances tries to uncover information about Greta. But none of the secrets let us into Greta as a character: each revelation does little more than confirm that Greta’s not just a sweet old woman, which has been perfectly clear for most of the movie. Jordan, alongside his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and editor Nick Emerson, spices the movie’s midsection up with some inspired visual choices—but it’s just distraction from a plot that’s going around in circles.
When Greta reaches its third act, it gives up the ghost and turns into a by-the-numbers horror/thriller, which is actually when the movie is at its strongest. We know that Greta is sinister and we know that Frances is scared of Greta—let the horrors commence! It’s at this point that Isabelle Huppert struts her legendary stuff, sliding and dancing around her house in a chillingly disturbing physical performance. Huppert has a lot of fun turning the creep factor up to eleven, which is more than welcome in the face of Chloë Grace Moretz’ one-note performance. Huppert’s elegant sadism makes Greta’s third act an intriguing watch, but it’s hard not to see the rest of the movie as a promise barely kept.