Neil Jordan finally returns to the thriller and horror formula that he utilized 20 years ago with the Annette Benning vehicle In Dreams. This time he successfully brings one of the greatest actresses of our time out from the world of independent and foreign cinema to what, on the surface, could be considered a paint-by-numbers thriller. Isabelle Huppert plays Greta Hideg, a lonely French woman in New York City who leaves purses all around the city waiting for someone to return them to her so she isn’t lonely. However, as the trailer shows, separation from Greta is murder. She needs the love of a daughter and she’ll do whatever she can to keep it.
Frances McCullen (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), an interminably sweet, trusting young woman, falls into Greta’s trap and when she discovers the various purses in Greta’s house with names and numbers on them, she attempts to put distance between her and Greta. Greta, however, stalks her and her friend Erica (played by the brilliant Maika Monroe) to the point of disrupting and terrifying Frankie. One of the best scenes in the film involves a stone-faced Huppert standing on a concrete island across from the restaurant Frankie works at and just watching for the whole shift. It is reminiscent of the classic scene of Michael Myers standing across the street from Laurie Strode’s high school in Halloween and works just as effectively.
The reviews for this film have been largely underwhelming and I see why this is the case; because if one takes away the acting talent from this film, it would become a throwaway concept. The acting heightens the film, and its wry sense of humor in the midst of extreme violence worked wonders for me. While the focus on the film needed to be on Greta, Frances and Erica, part of me wishes Colm Feore and Stephen Rea’s characters had been given more development; if only to raise the stakes of how far Greta would be willing to take this game of cat and mouse. As it stands, the set piece where Rea’s private detective character and Huppert’s Greta interact is deeply humorous, and devious in the underlying tension that ratchets up. These are two acting greats playing off of each other with absolute ease.
The ending of the film worked for me as a less complex and stylized Get Out for white women. There is a moment at the end where one of our main characters is in significant danger, and the character who ends up saving her is a nice little twist, providing what I took to be a relatively empowering message. Is Greta the best thing Jordan has written and/or directed? Far from it, but one could do a lot worse for an hour and a half of entertainment on a free night. Plus, the simple act of giving mainstream audiences a taste of Huppert’s brilliance is worth the price of admission. She is truly terrifying and yet utterly fragile and always seems to stand on the razor’s edge of sanity.
The film won’t make it onto any top ten lists probably, but there are scenes so strong in their compositions that I will not soon forget them. And I’ll never forget the film’s ability to make the audience laugh in the midst of its restrained Grand Guignol theater of violence.