Greta is the latest thriller from Oscar-winning film-maker Neil Jordan (The Crying Game and Breakfast on Pluto). The story focuses on Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), a 20-something waitress who stumbles upon a cash-filled handbag on NYC’s Subway. She fends off greedy roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) to return the – frankly hideous – item to its rightful owner, middle-aged Frenchwoman Greta Hildeg (Isabelle Huppert). After the recent death of her mother, Frances finds herself drawn to the lonely woman, and they fast become friends. Things end abruptly when the young girl realizes this isn’t Greta’s first misplaced purse, but she’s dealing with one lady who plans to “stick like gum.”
A balls-to-the-wall-exploit in kitsch. His time consumed by popular TV series The Borgias and Riviera, Jordan hasn’t indulged in any silver screen projects since Byzantium in 2012. But he’s back with Greta, a thriller co-written by Ray Wright, the screenwriter behind Pulse and Case 39. Neither of these gents appears concerned with restraint here, going full throttle with this campy, farcical curio. Its utter lack of subtlety – threatening orchestral cues and jump scares abound – pins Greta down closer to B-movie territory than anywhere else. However, this move seems far from accidental; Wright undoubtedly cracking open the same toolkit used for his fantastic remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 horror The Crazies. While this approach isn’t for the cinema-going masses, it’ll find a fanbase among those with a penchant for the tacky, low-budget feel of such flicks.
Do some first act faux pas spell disaster? It’s always a relief when films avoid plodding out of the gate with a gratuitously lengthy set-up; as is the case with Greta, thankfully. The second Frances explores the lost handbag’s contents, it’s a pleasing certainty the titular Greta will shortly make an entrance in all her crazy grandeur. Sadly, prior to that, Jordan and Wright drag viewers through some wonky narrative composition. While they mostly introduce an introspective Frances with credibility, they have a waitress – presumably with no other source of income – living in an implausibly large and flashy Manhattan apartment. Who knows though, it could belong to vapid, hedonistic roommate Erica, a character so ridiculous she’s almost parodic.
Apparently “Everybody needs a friend.” But not one like Greta. Following these mildly offensive first act blunders, Greta puts its best foot forward in the remaining two. Here, some sadistically warped story beats are accentuated by off-kilter camera angles and a dramatic, dread-filled score by Javier Navarrete. While the film may be knowingly clothed in B-movie garb, underneath those wonderfully unrefined threads is a smart, suspenseful plot propelled by a couple of real class acts. Moretz is in top form as the kindly Frances; a young, grieving girl with a whole load of love to give and nobody to give it to. That is until Huppert – in her most remarkable performance since 2016 neo-noir psycho-thriller Elle – enters the scene playing a deceptively soft-hearted loner. Our sweet protagonist is blind to the wingnut’s insidiously menacing designs and frustratingly helpless when they begin to manifest.
And the award for best actor goes to…the Eiffel Tower. Across the last two acts, Moretz and Huppert’s respectively narcotized and maniacal characters – the ultimate adversaries nobody bargained for – battle it out in an unsporting game of cat and mouse. Here, we’re forced to endure a host of eye-rolling stock genre ploys; the kind that has you yelling at the screen in exasperated disbelief. We forgive these as the conflict blazes on in full force; the film advancing towards its gloriously demented, twisty conclusion with increasing intensity. In the closing moments, the Eiffel Tower is presented as one cast member you least expect; cleverly wrapping up this entertaining tale with a skosh of ambiguity.