R, 98 mins.
2019, R, 98 mins.
ChloŽ Grace Moretz as Frances McCullen / Isabelle Huppert as Greta Hideg / Maika Monroe as Erica / Zawe Ashton as Alexa / Parker Sawyers as Gary
Directed by Neil Jordan / Written by Ray Wright and Jordan
GRETA is the kind of psychopathic stalker killer from hell genre exercise that feels so woefully telegraphed, antiquated, and paint-by-numbers that I left my screening pondering why a filmmaker of Neil Jordan's established pedigree would ever bother wasting his time making it.
This is a film
essentially made on autopilot, emulating the very popular aforementioned
sub-genre that became prominent in the 1980s and 1990s, which had films
featuring plotlines that had innocent everyday people being absolutely
terrorized by deeply insane individuals that had an unhealthy fixation of
them. There's nothing inherently wrong with a veteran like Jordan
wanting to dabble in these waters, but GRETA is so retrograde and
aggressively formulaic that it becomes hard to really care about it
throughout. That, and it's
also the poster boy film for the "Idiot Plot Syndrome", or a
film containing a plot that is kept in motion moving forward primarily
because seemingly everyone involved is an idiot.
idiot...I mean victim... that's unfortunately lured into the
lecherous ways of a truly wicked and evil person is Frances McCullen
(Chloe Grace Moretz), a New York residing and recent college graduate
that's still mourning over the death of her mother, which leaves her as
somewhat damaged goods as the film opens.
Her life is thrown completely upside down when she finds an
abandoned purse on a subway one evening, which contains the identification
of what she assumes is the owner. Her
BFF and roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe), has deep suspicions right from the
get-go, as she humorously warns and deadpans to Frances early on that when
"You find a bag, you better call the bomb squad."
Ignoring her friend's paranoia, Frances decides to do the right
thing and return the handbag to its owner.
becomes the biggest mistake she'll ever make in her life.
Not initially, though.
When she makes it
to the Brooklyn living woman's modest home she discovers a sweet tempered
and kind French immigrant named, yes, Greta (Isabelle Huppert).
She's so overcome with joy that her prized purse has been returned
to her that, out of sheer gratitude, she offers Frances some tea and
snacks. Frances finds the
congenial old woman to be a real refreshing treat and strikes up a
friendship with her, and through early conversations she discovers that
she too has experienced family loss (her husband has recently died and
their daughter is now estranged from her and living in Paris).
Frances simply feels both sorry for and connected with Greta, and
the two of them become inseparable friends.
They exchange phone numbers upon their first meeting, and Frances
takes Greta's frequent phones calls and texts as simply that of a
desperately lonely old widow looking to make connections in the Big Apple.
But then Greta keeps texting...and texting...and texting...which
Frances casually brushes off at first, but when she visits her for supper
one night and discovers a secret stash of what appears to be dozens of
identical purses (exactly the same as the one she found on the subway), her
Spider-sense kicks into overdrive when she realizes that - gasp! -
Greta is a total homicidal lunatic.
GRETA opens quite
well and throughout its first few acts Jordan does a reasonably decent job
of drumming up tension and while also establishing some compelling
character dynamics between Greta and Frances.
Both women find an easy bond through shared grief as a result of
losing loved ones, and Frances becomes a conduit for Frances - at least
until she's revealed to be bonkers nuts - to talk about her pain and
suffering with someone that seems sympathetic and understanding.
And both women are mutually needy and require shoulders to cry on
that their respective friends and family members can't readily provide.
Their bonding is, at first, kind of endearing and touching,
especially in seeing two women from polar opposite ends of their
respective lives come together. Of
course, this is later juxtaposed with the inherent darkness of the
subsequent story as Greta wages a one-woman stalker crusade against a
terrified Frances, who later wants absolutely nothing to do with this
fanatic. Jordan has some fun
with a couple of chilling sequences, such as one featuring Greta
methodically following Erica and texting real-time photos of her pursuit
of her to Frances with blatant threats that she will indeed do harm to
her. This urban chase
sequence is quite unnerving and Jordan stages it well.
But, gee whiz,
GRETA does such a poor job of quickly and completely relaying to audiences
the titular character's murderous ways.
Instead of allowing the story to develop some semblance of intrigue
in the relationship between Frances and Greta and play a mental cat and
mouse game regarding the latter's true motives, Jordan and company lay
their cards on the table way, way too early and lets the film
devolve into contrived and overused genre formulas that we've seen
countless times before in countless other and better stalker thrillers.
The film unravels with a numbing predictability (you just know that
poor Frances will unavoidably become kidnapped by this frighteningly
unstable maniac and used as her drugged up plaything).
I can tolerate a predictable thriller that hits every genre beat. What I can't tolerate is when characters act stupidly and
commit actions that defy simple logic.
This is where the Idiot Plot Syndrome really, really rears
its ugly head here.
I hate when smart
people are dumb in movies.
Frances, for example, is a smart and relatively athletic young
woman that could probably take the somewhat frail and elderly Greta in
just about any fight. Yet,
the moronic scripting always finds a manner of never allowing Frances to
physically defend herself from this whack job and/or physically attack her
to ensure her freedom from imprisonment.
There are so many bloody times in the film when all Frances has to
do is to take action of attack her stalker, but she doesn't, which is
positively stupefying. Also
ridiculous is a scene midway when Greta visits Frances at the restaurant
she works at as a waitress, which results in her becoming completely
unhinged and making a large scene that shows her insanity to multiple
witnesses (she's carried out literally by police and paramedics and
should, by all accounts, be sent away in a straight jacket to a mental
hospital, but in the phony la la land of this film she's immediately
released without hesitation). And
speaking of phony, there's the super human way that Greta is able to
withstand pain that would normally hospitalize any other old woman on the
GRETA only becomes somewhat intense during its final twenty minutes, but the whole incredulous level of preposterous plot developments that builds towards this climax kind of stunts the film's overall effectiveness. I'll give the film props when it comes to the A-list acting talent on display, and Moretz is quite committed in her thankless performance as a wide eyed and demoralized victim. GRETA is Huppert's show, though, and the acclaimed actress shows that she gives 110 per cent of herself into being game for just about any nonsensical and twisted moment the screenplay offers up to her. Even though the film constructed around her is beyond silly, she's always authentically terrifying to the bone. I only wished that the male characters were afforded some dimension (Colm Fiore and Jordan's old THE CRYING GAME star Stephen Rea show up to respectively to play Frances' father and a private eye in criminally underwritten parts). There's an argument to be made that GRETA is just a throwback B-movie homage to stalker thrillers of yesteryear, but considering the A-list talent in front of and behind the camera, why would you want to waste them in an exercise in well worn genre regurgitation with nothing new brought to the proverbial table? When one thinks about it, GREAT has no business being as cheaply disposable as it is.