Metro Weekly

Film Review: ‘Greta’ is a good thriller with some laughably dumb moments

Neil Jordan's "Greta" builds taut suspense around a potent performance from Isabelle Huppert

Chloë Grace Moretz — Photo: Patrick Redmond / Focus Features

The wry, compact thriller Greta (★★★) rises on a nice, slow buildup that starts with Frances, a fresh-faced young transplant to New York City, going out of her way to do a good deed. Frances finds a smart-looking ladies’ handbag on the subway and kindly seeks to return it to its owner, who turns out to be Greta, a lonesome piano-playing widow.

The first feature in six years from Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), Greta hews closely to the form of fairy tales and film thrillers from the ’80s and ’90s. Jordan began his career reimagining Red Riding Hood with the dreamy horror of The Company of Wolves, but he and co-writer Ray Wright don’t seem to be interested in reimagining formula here, just executing it solidly.

Fans of movie thrillers of the past thirty years will be waiting for the other psycho stiletto to drop as soon as they see Greta’s weird, rear-courtyard townhouse. And Jordan does provide Greta a few striking eccentricities that help distinguish her from the pack of unhinged friends, exes, babysitters, roommates, and pet monkeys that have terrorized movie heroes and heroines in the wake of Fatal Attraction.

What most distinguishes Greta, of course, is that she’s embodied by screen goddess Isabelle Huppert, an actress who makes standing still an act of sheer menace in one suspenseful sequence in the loner’s escalating campaign to hold onto her new friend Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz). Greta also deploys dramatic recitals of Liszt’s Liebestraum and Hungarian Rhapsodies to turn the screws on Frances and ramp up tension. The movie, abetted by detailed production design and cinematography, isolates Frances in a city where she’s basically on her own. She’s surrounded by people on the street, on the subway, at the restaurant where she works as a waitress, but no one’s ever really paying attention to her — until Greta, who pays way too much attention to her.

Isabelle Huppert stars as Greta and Chloë Grace Moretz as Frances — Photo: Jonathan Hession / Focus Features

It feels right, via Moretz’s layered performance, that Frances both fears Greta and fears that they’re made for each other, although sex stays buried in the background. Huppert and Moretz’s close-up encounters and tête-à-têtes over tea deliver desire as subtext. This is a story more about companionship and human connection in a world where everyone bounces along inside their own bubble. Frances might not be losing her mind, but she feels the same aching loneliness that partly motivates Greta.

At least Frances does have one good friend in the city, her caring roomie Erica (Maika Monroe), and she hopes to repair her rocky relationship with her widower dad Chris (Colm Feore). Unfortunately, Frances’ dad stays too busy to help his daughter heal the grief they’re both experiencing since her mother died.

So, Frances is off to hell in a handbag, in this swiftly-paced, four-character fugue, that twists and turns, though it never truly surprises. Rather, it bears down on constructing a good trap to lure the damsel to distress, and make the audience squirm while she and they figure out how she’ll ever escape.

Led by Huppert’s oddly delightful turn as the devious, if utterly certifiable, Liszt-loving lunatic, Greta generates pulse-pounding results by strictly following the rules. That means also throwing in some laughably dumb moves on the part of naïvely trusting Frances, and a few standout clunkers of dialogue. But what would a good thriller be without a few glaring Don’t go in there! moments? Jordan doesn’t appear to be taking the tone of the movie too seriously, nowhere near as seriously as Greta takes keeping her friends close, and her enemies closer. But with friends like Greta, who needs enemies?

Greta is rated R, and is now playing at Landmark’s E Street and Bethesda Row Cinemas. Visit www.landmarktheaters.com.

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Greta
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André Hereford covers arts and entertainment for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at ahereford@metroweekly.com. Follow him on Twitter at @here4andre.

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