I don’t know if I liked Greta, but there are parts of it I loved. Isabelle Huppert, to start with the obvious, brings a wiry grace to the madness of the title character, to the point where she literally dances with murderous intent. Director Neil Jordan and Ray Wright, with whom he co-wrote the script, engage in some fancy footwork to keep this modern-day Grimm fairy tale from becoming too predictable. And there’s a satisfying redemption (involving a giant spoiler I’ll address later, be forewarned) for a supporting character. But these elements are finely stitched over a fairly pedestrian frame.
In the first few minutes of the film, we learn that Frances, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, is a naïve and trusting young woman on her own in big, scary New York City. She won’t return her father’s messages. She lives in a nice loft with her best friend Erica, whose father bought the digs as a graduation present. Erica is the street smart one, so when Frances brings home a handbag she found on the subway and announces her intentions to bring it back to its owner in person, Erica tells her she’s crazy. Erica thinks they should just take the cash they find and have a spa day or a colonic. Frances is aghast. That’s just not the way they do things back home.
Here’s my first problem. “Back home” isn’t Mayberry, where time stands still and everyone loves their neighbor. “Back home” is Boston. The city I live in now. I place where a guy will harass you for a full city block for wearing a hat with the wrong sports team on it, where they throw beer at players they actually like. But no matter. Maybe she’s from Marblehead. We’ll move on.
Frances does bring the bag to Greta, who is incredibly grateful, and obviously lonely, estranged from her own daughter. Frances befriends her, seemingly out of the kindness of her big Boston heart, and sometimes to the exclusion of Erica, who can’t understand why Frances doesn’t want to go out and be fabulous in cute shoes at parties all the time. When Frances confides in Greta that her own mother has died recently, the dynamic is set. They understand each other, and maybe they can help each other get past their respective issues.
It doesn’t take long for Frances to discover what the audience already knows, that Greta’s intentions are less than pure. The movie is in full-on stalker mode at that point. And Huppert gets to start to unleash the crazy. She menaces Frances at work and follows her everywhere. It’s the same tension at the heart of 101 percent of Lifetime movies – the police can’t help Frances unless Greta actually does something to harm her. As delightfully intense as Huppert is in the role, the suspension of disbelief is mixed.
Frances cuts all ties with Greta, but she’s concerned about the dog she helped her adopt. You read that right. The dog she helped her adopt. I love dogs. Probably more than you (fight me). But that’s the connective tissue that leads Frances to information to contact Greta’s daughter, and it wore on my patience. It happens again a short time later when Frances consults with Erica. It’s clear that Greta isn’t going to go away, Erica suggests she be given the “slow fade” treatment. Frances should tell Greta, it’s not you, it me, and I’m going away for a while to work on myself. That should work, right? Telling a sociopath who is following you like a raptor on a morally-flawed secondary character that you’re going on vacation for a while? There’s no way she’d follow up on that, right? Maybe there’s a cinematic wink in there, but it’s the wink of an inept magician allowing you to see the harness coming out of his sleeve during the levitating ball trick. Why are you doing this to me? And that’s how we get to the resolution.
Only two characters have an arc in the story. Greta, who goes from spinster to serial killer fairly quickly, and Erica, who goes from bratty trust fun kid to capable, calculated, and stone cold at the very end. God damn, don’t mess with Erica. She will hunt you for as long as it takes, and if Frances isn’t around to be her conscience, she will take you out. And likely in a stylish pump.
If you’re still reading at this point, you are no longer concerned with spoilers. Still, I’ll keep it light. I was expecting Greta to have an appropriately Grimm ending, for the villain to win the day. Next victim shows up, Greta smiles innocently, but we know it’s not innocent, and then an actual slow fade. But it doesn’t. Frances still has friends. Well, friend. Well, Erica. Jordan teases us with the “next victim” ending, and gives us one final turn. I saw it coming about thirty seconds before the reveal, but when it happened, it left me smiling. If you want to lure a young woman to her eventual death with a fashionable handbag, don’t choose one of Erica’s friends.
And so all’s well that ends well, and Greta ends well. Maybe I did like Greta.