The effectiveness of this peculiar, creepy, forced captivity picture depends almost entirely on your perception of Isabelle Huppert, all of 5 feet, 90 pounds or so. If you believe the 65-year-old actress can be an intimidating physical force, you might buy in to Neil Jordan's film; if not, and I can hardly blame you if that's the case, the conception quickly becomes ludicrous.
It's not that the somewhat severe actress can't seem menacing -- in many of her roles, the diminutive Huppert carries much more gravitas than her slight build would suggest -- but this isn't, in the end, a psychological thriller, it's a physical one, and the standard of disbelief is indeed binding.
78 Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Jane Perry, Jeff Hiller
Director: Neil Jordan
Rating: R, for some violence and disturbing images
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Huppert plays the titular Greta, an aging, lonely woman living in New York, left to reminisce about her late husband and estranged daughter to the unfortunate young women who find her "missing" purse on a subway train and, in an act of kindness, return it to her. The newest victim in this case is Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz), a recent college grad, moved to the city with her best friend, Erica (Maika Monroe), into a glitzy Tribeca loft (Erica's dad is filthy rich). Finding the bag, she brushes off Erica's attempts to take the money and have a "spa day," and instead returns it to Greta.
As is her way, Greta quickly establishes a rapport with the sweetly innocent Frances, who lost her own beloved mother the year before, and suddenly, the two are spending days together, Frances helping Greta get a dog from the shelter (warning to animal lovers: Yes, and in an entirely unnecessary way!). All goes swimmingly, to the continued bewilderment of Erica, right up until Frances spies all the spare purses Greta has stockpiled for her future victims, and quickly eradicates the clearly disturbed woman from her life, cutting off all communication.
Not allowing herself to be ignored, Greta almost instantaneously transforms into a psychopath, calling Frances interminably, leaving hundreds of messages, stalking her at her restaurant job and the like. It's here that Jordan's film begins its descent into utter nonsense. There is the section where Frances looks out the window of her restaurant to see Greta standing judgmentally across the street from her, unmoving as a gargoyle for hour after hour, and the even more ludicrous section, where Frances receives a real time photo of Erica at a club from Greta, who is clearly there stalking her as well. Frances calls her friend to warn her (of what, exactly, we are unclear), and as Erica exits hastily, Frances receives more and more photos of her friend trying to escape (it's the film's "the call is coming from inside the house" moment).
In short, Jordan turns Greta into a Michael Myers-esque boogeyman, everywhere and no place at once, almost a phantom, but for her high heels and French condemnation. In this way, the filmmaker loses his grip on his material.
Framing our villain as an evil spinster, we learn more and more about Greta's dubious psychology and expertise with anesthetics, but by that time, we're well past anything designed to make real-world sense. It's a more geriatric version of the female obsession flick like Single White Female, or Fatal Attraction, with an antagonist whose most chilling moment actually comes when we see her chewing a stick of Wrigley's and glaring into the camera.
Near the film's climax, I kept asking myself why Frances, or anyone else, wouldn't just pluck Greta up as if she were a particularly ornery 7-year-old, and move her out of the way. A better film would have accounted for Greta's lack of size with other, more malevolent elements -- no one doubted how menacing young Regan MacNeil was in The Exorcist, for example -- but Jordan seems convinced that his diminutive star can make it work solely via her disdainfully apathetic expression.
Worse, it makes all of Erica's dire predictions to Frances ("this city will eat you alive") entirely accurate. The message appears to be to not ever go out of your way to help a stranger with an act of kindness in New York, because everyone is obviously deranged and murderous. It's the kind of movie that reinforces a particularly ugly stereotype about the city to no particular purpose, and obviously, even that basic premise is deeply flawed: As vastly superior horror movies have proved over the years, such sadistic villains are equally at home in the suburbs or the countryside. Psychopaths don't geographically discriminate.
MovieStyle on 03/01/2019
Print Headline: MOVIE REVIEW: Diminutive 'Greta' doesn’t measure up to scary killer status