Going into Neil Jordan’s “Greta,” it’s important to know that, despite the film’s marketing campaign intended to convince audiences that it’s meant to be taken seriously, it’s actually a campy take on the “creepy stalker” sub-genre of thriller/suspense filmmaking.
The film’s overall concept has been practically done to death, and thankfully, Jordan (director of 1992’s “The Crying Game”) knew this when he co-wrote the screenplay with Ray Wright. So again, that’s really what this film is: a campy version of this concept, albeit one that yields some enjoyable results.
Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a young girl living her everyday life in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, working as a waitress at a high-end restaurant, while living with her roommate and friend Erica (Maika Monroe) in a luxury apartment in the Tribeca neighborhood. While riding on the subway one day, Frances finds a black handbag that was left behind, and uses the driver’s license inside to find out it belongs to Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), a French widow who lives in downtown Brooklyn.
Upon returning the handbag to her home, Frances begins to form a friendship with Greta, and more importantly, begins to view her as essentially a surrogate mother. However, when she discovers that Greta has an entire cabinet full of black handbags, each containing a post-it note with another woman’s name and phone number, she realizes that there is something much more sinister underneath Greta’s seemingly innocent appearance, and breaks off the friendship as a result.
Like I mentioned above, this seems like familiar territory more than anything else. Whether the focus is on the victim or even the perpetrator, this doesn't necessarily seem like anything new or groundbreaking. And yet, with this in mind, Jordan certainly tries to make the most of it by establishing a foundation that is built on intentional exaggeration.
One could definitely argue that a critically-acclaimed director like Jordan is trying to craft a story and characters that are meant to be threatening and able to be invested in. But when one of the scenes has Greta spitting a piece of chewing of gum into Frances’ hair, stating that “I’m like chewing gum. I tend to stick around,” I think it’s rather obvious that’s not the case.
Sometimes, though, even the film’s campiness can sometimes go a little overboard, particularly with Maika Monroe’s performance as Frances’ roommate Erica. Out of the three main actors headlining this film, she easily comes across as the one that gives the least likable or tolerable performance. Most of her screen time is spent trying to emphasize the fact that she’s a spoiled brat with rich parents and an attitude that would make most audience members fed up rather quickly.
Both Moretz and Huppert, on the other hand, do an effective job with handling this campy script, delivering generally serious performances that never necessarily acknowledge the movie they’re in, making it seem that they’re on this wacky ride with us as opposed to being too self-aware.
Although in some respects, Huppert seemed somewhat restrained, in that I wouldn’t mind if she decided to embrace this criminally insane character a bit more. She likely could have gone a little further to make this performance as dramatically entertaining as possible.
Overall, “Greta” has its own distinct value that, if willing to be taken in a lighthearted way, can lead to a somewhat entertaining time at the cinema. It’s stupidly ridiculous at some points, but it knows that it is and if anything, tries to have fun with its identity instead of trying to be overly serious. Simply put, “Greta” is simultaneously familiar yet a change of pace for this sub-genre, one that is amusing enough for what it sets out to achieve.