Movie Review: Greta (2019)

Greta is one of those rare movies that benefits from how bad it is.  What’s odd, though, is that the film, helmed by director Neil Jordan (who is no slouch, having made both The Crying Game and Interview With the Vampire), has moments that hint at some masterful, Hitchockian work of suspense.  There are these little gems–whether an acting flourish, a brilliant piece of foreshadowing or mood-setting–that stand totally at odds with the rest of the film.

The set-up is an overall pretty clever one”  Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is mourning the death of her mother, stumbles into a spider-web laid by a monstrous woman named Greta (Isabelle Huppert).  Greta leaves purses all over town on trains, subways and buses, and strikes friendships with people who are nice enough to return the purse to her.  The friendship grows, then, into a stalking situation, where Greta’s obsession grows and flourishes.

One of those intelligent touches that probably belongs in a better movie is that I appreciated how Frances understood the gravity of her situation right away.  There was no subtle build up where she has to ignore her gut instinct every human being would have naturally had, while the audience suspends its disbelief that anyone could be so naive.  That was a nice touch.  Greta, then, goes from zero to sixty in seconds flat and amps up the crazy almost immediately.

Frances tries to ignore the 80 or so calls and texts that Greta leaves her on her phone, but then she begins showing up at her work.  The police have sympathy, but unfortunately can’t do much, because standing across the street with a shitty look on your face may be rude, but it isn’t illegal.  She tries to apply for a restraining order, but with the backed-up court system, it could take months.  And I couldn’t tell if this was realistic or silly, but when Greta comes to the restaurant Frances works at as a customer, Frances complains to her boss, “She’s been stalking me,” to which her boss replies, “I’m sorry, she has a reservation.”

Greta combines familiar tropes and cliches in a way that is completely expected and familiar, but against a bizarre pastiche of unintentional humor, some woefully bad acting and very, very predictable twists and turns in the plot.  It feels like a “classy” thriller that had accidentally been made for Redbox.

To Isabelle Huppert’s credit, she appears to be completely aware that the movie she’s starring in is silly as all get-out, and has fun with her role.  She chews scenery, especially when she’s literally chewing gum and spitting it into Frances’s hair.  She stalks potential murder victims with twinkle-toes and a pirouette.  If a movie is only as good as its villain, I guess Greta is pretty good, then, because it’s actually much more fun that I’m giving it credit for.  As the film begins, you’re made to feel that you’re watching a well-made, albeit stuffy thriller, something that would run the film festival circuit before disappearing into obscurity.  Instead, it’s a crowd-pleasing thriller not unlike the slew of women-led ones that dominated the 1990s, like Poison Ivy or The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, with its sexuality much more dialed down.

There are added layers of subtext that really don’t do much for the movie as a whole.  Usually these little ideas are pieces of an overall larger tapestry, but here they just wind up as dead-ends that go nowhere.  What was the point of making Frances’s roommate, Maika Monroe, so vapid?  She’s, at-turns, selfish and altruistic, with no overall character arc for her, just a series of actions and reactions as the plot requires.  One of my favorite scenes, though, involves Greta trying to intimidate Frances’s roommate, who insists she’s not being stalked, despite the stalker being maybe 6 inches behind her at one point?

Greta is a fun, bad movie.  The audience I saw it with loved it.  One woman screamed like she was being murdered at one of the lamer jump scares.  The entire audience erupted in laughter with some of the clumsy dialogue.  But, for my money, my favorite moment comes when Greta inspects a wound she’s been given, a serious wound that would require immediate medical attention had it not occurred in a movie, and says, “Ay yi yi!” at the damage point.