A film review by Craig J. Koban March 10, 2019

GRETA jj
   

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. 

The innocent 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.

 

 

This predictably 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 planet.  Sigh. 

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.

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