Director Neil Jordan
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea
Greta certainly sits in an odd place. As a genre, a thriller set around an obsessive female antagonist feels very much a piece from decades ago (Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, Single White Female etc), and a little on the nose in the time of #metoo. Yet here it is accomplished with panache, and a number of twists and character types that feel very much of this era, capturing the zeitgeist of the moment. Auteur Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire) manages to bring something to this tired genre, elevating it, not merely by his sense of style and great casting, but by a tight reign on the story, giving us a solid thriller that would also pass the Bechdel test.
Still struggling with the loss of her mother, Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) has moved away to New York, to live with a friend (Maika Monroe) and try to make her own life. Finding a handbag on a train she returns it, and strikes up a friendship with the older woman it belongs to, Greta (Isabelle Huppert). It’s a relationship that fulfils a need for both of them, a substitute mother-daughter bond, that fills a gap in their lives. However one dinner, Frances accidentally discovers a cupboard full of handbags like the one that she returned, all marked with the name on phone number of women, and it rapidly dawns on her that Greta may have a more sinister intent.
For most of the film, this friction is due to the interplay of two actors (although Maika Monroe certainly carries her own as Frances’ much more worldly friend and room mate). Pitting Isabelle Huppert against Chloë Grace Moretz is certainly a great matching of opposites. The mature, sophisticated immigrant, pitted against the naive small town girl (I know the character is from Boston, but that is really how she is played).
Both actresses excel in the portrayal. Huppert brings depth and menace to Greta, creating something that may be a little tongue in cheek, but never really feels overwrought. Her veneer of poise thinly masks anger and almost a giddy psychosis (at one point literally dancing with excitement as she closes for the kill). In turn Moretz may appear hampered by the straighter role, but manages to find the balance between innocence and determination. She is never a screaming victim, but manages to be afraid, while trying to maintain the agency to do something about it.
Jordan’s masterful direction lifts this, maintaining the tension and threat while giving us an almost bloodless horror (and those exceptions are used for shocking impact). Hence Greta rises above the dated set up, giving us a taunt and at times darkly humorous thriller that rests upon the shoulders of two exceptional actresses.