Creepy but not scary, “Greta” is a bland horror/thriller.
Even the presence of popular A-list talent and an Oscar winning writer/director can’t elevate “Greta” above formula. And in an effort to distinguish the film from other lower profile entries, restraint prevails, delivering dressed up but middling chills, highlighted by early tension that fails to land an impactful punch.
When a young woman named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) finds a handbag on the New York subway, she decides to return it to its owner. That owner is a lonely widow named Greta (Isabelle Huppert), who sweetly beckons Frances inside her warm alleyway apartment. The two bond over a comforting cup of coffee and a nice cookie. Because Frances recently lost her own mother, she’s naturally drawn to the homey but exotic Greta. The two embark on a friendship, but when Frances discovers that Greta makes a habit of leaving her purse on the subway in an effort to ensnare prey, Frances decides to break things off. Of course, Greta won’t go away quietly, and begins to stalk Frances. Things escalate from there.
There’s no spoilers in the above plot summary—everything can be gleaned by watching the trailer for the film. And to be fair, “Greta” is an efficient tale told over a scant 98 minutes. The lean screenplay offers up some tense moments in the film’s second act. Huppert, who plays cold and dangerous better than any other actress available today, is a great choice, and she hams it up colorfully, exhibiting growing unhinged behavior. Moretz is a good victim, too. But the movie’s third act unravels as events strain credulity. This reduces Huppert to a cartoon and makes Moretz little more than a warm body.
At the helm of “Greta” is Neil Jordan, who is undeniably a talented director. His early work garnered him an Academy Award nomination in 1993 for directing “The Crying Game,” and he won the award that year for best original screenplay. In the 1980’s, he gave us the fantastic “Mona Lisa” that featured an award worthy turn by the late Bob Hoskins. And Jordan showed us back then with the fantasy entry “The Company of Wolves” that working in the horror genre was in his wheelhouse. Above all, based on Jordan’s work to date, it’s safe to say that he’s best at crafting stories with edge populated by authentic characters that connect with viewers meaningfully. But with “Greta” his sensitivity to character actually conflicts with typically effective horror genre requirements. Given Jordan’s pedigree, he’s just not able to push this story far enough to make it fun and scary. The result is bland and frustrating.
A film like “Greta” should either be an engrossing drama with horror facets or a full-on exploitive horror/thriller (from the Brian De Palma school). The problem with this movie is that it falls somewhere in between. Perhaps, with a little more development, the dramatic elements might have taken shape. But given how quickly events progress, no time is given to make Greta and Frances little more than pieces to advance plot.
At one point, frequent Jordan contributor Stephen Rea appears as a private detective. His breezy introduction is rushed, and his departure from the narrative is just as rapid. Seems like there was a lot of story left on the cutting room floor, and given how good Rea always is, I wished more was done with his character.
“Greta” is mysterious to an unsatisfying fault. It’s the kind of ambiguous horror film that might be appealing to that narrow group of viewers who don’t like horror movies, but want to see one anyway.