Greta is in the tradition of those wonderfully bad thrillers that made B-movies in the 80s so fun to watch. A simple film with a creepy-ass antagonist and a young, beautiful protagonist. There’s something welcoming to a premise so basic as this and when executed correctly it can be terrifying on a level far greater than any traditional horror film because the evil and insanity are real.
Be sure, there is an art to this kind of cheap thrills film. There’s a mastery to making the perfect level of camp and horror that delivers a truly great psychodrama. The greats rachet up the tension until bursting, obscuring the obvious with misdirection and mystery while slowly creeping us towards insanity. There’s a skill to it that belies what is usually a small budget or an unknown cast.
Greta misses the mark on this at almost every turn, falling into near disinterest with itself every time Isabelle Huppert as the titular character isn’t on the screen.
Director: Neil Jordan
Release Date: March 1, 2019
Greta has a pretty standard stalker movie plot, except for one twist: the stalker is an elderly woman. That’s not really a spoiler as it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that Greta is clearly a troubled person, and that she is not going to be good for Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Mortez). Frances is your typical naive heroine, thrust into to New York City after college and all too trusting of the world around her despite the fact that she says she’s from Boston, which is also a large city full of assholes. After finding a purse on the subway she goes to return it and gets sucked into Greta’s world, at first using her as a surrogate mother and then realizing she’s batshit crazy, but unable to get away from her.
A lot of Greta relies on Frances being really stupid, which, in general, for horror films is OK, but for one that’s more of a thriller like this ruins a lot of the tension. You can shrug off being an idiot when a killer is a supernaturally strong guy with a chainsaw but when you’re dealing with a psychological thriller losing realism becomes a bigger issue. On multiple occasions, Frances and her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe) do the exact opposite of what they should do and their decisions suck much of the tension out of the film so that by the end it feels more like going through the motions than delivering a truly satisfying conclusion.
It also doesn’t help that the film takes its time getting anywhere and where it does go doesn’t actually feel like much. The first third is spent setting up the relationship between the two women, but that leaves little time for the actual insanity to kick in with Greta until we’re whisked into a conclusion that mostly involves little actual engagement from our not-so-intrepid heroine. The entire thing seems to be set up around Huppert going all out as Greta but there’s something to be said for restraint, trickling out moments of insanity instead of dumping them on us in a deluge of absurdity. There’s no tension left over by the end, especially since Frances loses almost all agency within the plot.
Credit where it is due, though. The idea of making a campy psychological horror movie around Huppert acting like a crazy woman is a great one. She is wonderfully maniacal and for the brief time she’s allowed to teeter between totally insane and sweet, old lady there’s a devilish amount of joy in her eye. Once she goes all out psycho it’s just fun to watch and any scene she’s in feels alive, full of the kind of camp you wanted out of it. There’s a movie out there for this actor playing this character to its full, wonderfully campy extent, but Greta isn’t it.
When the movie moves away from her there’s next to nothing. It plays itself far too straight to be considered camp and never seems to actually want to have fun with itself. Mortez’s development as a character and her issues with her mother’s death are never played out to any great effect and the film seems to want to rush to “the good” part but doesn’t realize it skipped over it. Mortez also seems pretty disinterested in being in the film. This may be partially due to a screenplay that gives her character almost nothing to do despite being the lead, but she doesn’t do much with what she has anyway. Frances goes through the film with things being done to her. There’s no final turnaround where she becomes someone else, it’s just the world happening around her and that leads to an unsatisfying ending.
Greta, for all its desire to be a twisted thriller, can’t even manage the twists. There’s nothing in this movie to set it apart from the myriad other takes on this story that have already been done. The film doesn’t go camp enough to be ridiculous and isn’t scary or troubling enough to be tense. It’s not offensively bad but it never truly delivers anything good. There’s something to be said for a strong performance saving a film but in this case that performance is too squandered for it to be worth your time sitting through the rest of the movie. Greta is, sadly, regretable.