Synopsis: A young woman befriends a lonely widow who’s harboring a dark and deadly agenda towards her.
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea
Director: Neil Jordan
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: In my mid-teens, I used to love the made-for-TV movies that aired on the USA Television Network. Remember those? The modest thrillers featured an array of crazies (mothers, nannies, children, stalkers, stepfathers, etc) preying upon naïve chumps that were easily tricked and overpowered. They were soapy, syrupy, and an absolute delight to devour on their own or in a weekend marathon where they would all start to blend together by the time Sunday night rolled around. Watching the entertaining new thriller Greta, I found myself riding a wave of nostalgia because you don’t have to squint too hard to see that for all its handsome production values and A-list leads it’s just a gussied up made for cable movie.
Still grieving the loss of her mother, recent NYC transplant Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz, Suspiria) hopes living in a new city with her college friend Erica (Maika Monroe, The 5th Wave) will help her move on. Though she’s from Boston, Frances displays some downright Midwestern morals when she finds a purse left behind on the subway and returns it to Greta (Isabelle Huppert, Dead Man Down). The lonely woman takes a liking to Frances and the two form a friendship that seemingly fills a void present in both of their lives. Greta’s daughter doesn’t live close and Frances begins to enjoy spending time with the soft-spoken older woman. That all changes when Frances discovers a secret about Greta that sets into motion a series of events revealing Greta’s true nature.
To say more about the second and third acts of Greta would be to give away some of the twists screenwriter Ray Wright and director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, In Dreams) have waiting for audiences, most of which are telegraphed well in advance. The film is exactly what you think it’s going to be and doesn’t stray too far from the path. Usually, I’d huff and puff about this lack of originality but the way Greta unfolds is so nicely handled by Jordan and his actors that I found myself quite enjoying just going along for the intriguing ride.
The performances are actually the most surprising thing the movie has to offer. It’s a great benefit that Jordan has Huppert in the title role because she brings her inherent oddity to the forefront and makes it her weapon to keep us on our toes. We know from moment one there’s something off about her (and it seems like Frances does too) but Huppert’s sad eyes and wan smile nicely hide the rage boiling underneath her porcelain surface. When she feels rejected by Frances she lashes out in unexpected ways, which creates an air of uncomfortable unpredictability and that’s a space Huppert seems to revel working in.
I often struggle with Moretz as an actress but her turn here feels like one of the most fully formed characters she’s tackled. Frances has some emotional trauma that hasn’t healed and she can’t totally forgive her father (Colm Feore, The Prodigy) who appears to have moved on with his life. Moretz wades through some of the heaviness in Wright’s script and brings forth a lonely girl in a big city that feels familiar and relatable. We understand why she might eschew a night out drinking at a club with her party girl trust fund roommate for a quiet dinner with the widowed Greta. And we also see why Greta’s betrayal of trust hurts her so much.
The slow boil of the first 45 minutes gives way to an increasingly hard to swallow turn of events that don’t always jibe from scene to scene. At one point Moretz is kicking down a door with her bare foot and in the next shot she’s unable to break a window. A character is introduced late in the proceedings for no good reason other than to up the danger ante for Frances and satisfy some unspoken violence quota. And for a movie set in the modern day it mystifies me that Greta’s place of residence is so hard to find one character goes on what is essentially a needle in a haystack search instead of firing up Google Maps.
Jordan is a curious filmmaker with a resume that covers many genres. He hasn’t had an outright thriller in a while but he wades into the waters quite well with interesting camera set-ups and pacing that keeps things moving along without accumulating much drag. There are several suspenseful sequences staged with people in peril from dangers just outside the frame and it creates the desired tension. For those that like blunt edges, there’s a bit of gore that shocks with glee.
Now that the Oscars have been given out and everyone has patted themselves on the back, it’s time to get back to business. We made it through a particular rough January (Serenity – yikes!) and a February that saw some modest, but not huge, hits (Alita: Battle Angel, What Men Want) and before you knew it, March is upon us. With a host of anticipated movies set for release in March, Greta is being released in a narrow window before the blockbusters arrive. It may be getting a release without much fanfare but it’s a better film than it’s modest roll-out would have you believe. With noted caveats aside, this one is worth catching in theaters.