An utterly implausible B-movie thriller transformed into an effective thriller by the power of its cast, “Greta” just wants to be liked and will go to any lengths to do it.
When Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) finds an abandoned handbag on the subway, she resolves to return it to its owner, Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert) – against the advice of her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe). When Greta turns out to be a lonely yet charming older lady, Francis befriends her out of sympathy but when Greta’s friendship starts to take an obsessive and sinister turn, Francis tries to end the friendship, much to Greta’s displeasure.
The film has little patience for subtlety (or surprise judging by the marketing) and is content to push its subtext almost to the point of supertext in terms of its theme. There are also more than a few points where logic and common sense would suggest Greta’s plans would easily come undone. But this isn’t a movie you watch for logic or rationality – it’s all about the performances. Neil Jordan has taken the streets of New York City and turned them into the sinister forest of a dark urban fairy tale only this time, it’s the evil witch herself leaving the trail of breadcrumbs across the city – in the form of emerald green handbags – all the better to lure the unwary children to her home for (spiked) milk and cookies. It riffs on fairy tale tropes from Hansel and Gretel to Sleeping Beauty, with the magnificent (maleficent?) Isabelle Huppert weaving her terrible and terribly camp spell at the core of this poisoned Big Apple.
“Greta” teeters constantly on the brink of being a little too outré for its own good and there are a few times when you’ll likely (at least mentally) facepalm at some of the decisions but Huppert’s performance is so deliciously, playfully deranged that you can’t help but get swept up in the dark romance of it all. Chloë Grace Moretz plays the role of unwary victim while Maika Monroe has fun as her best friend and flatmate who gets drawn in to Greta’s machinations but in this feminist fairy tale there are no handsome princes ready to save the day – notably every male character is disinterested or ineffectual – and the princesses must save themselves.
Jordan’s not above using jump scares and cynical scene cuts to keep the tension high but he doesn’t need to do it often because, like she prefers her beloved Chopin to fill the room, Huppert’s Greta fills the screen with such irresistible malice and menace that there’s little need to resort to cheap tricks. So yes, you may giggle at times and occasionally roll your eyes but you’ll still feel tense and be holding your breath when the movie grips you in its elegant velvet gloves and, really, what more could you want from a thriller?