Movie Review: “Greta” (2019)

There are moments in the new film, “Greta,” that are entrancingly artful.  The opening credits play over the wonderful “Where are You,” and as they roll, the audience watches a young woman pick up a purse that has been left behind on the subway.  The camera focuses a little too strongly on the bag, enough to let people know (if they have not seen the trailer), that this is important.  But, except for that little hint, it all flows in such a nonchalant way that this opening could just be setting the mood in general, not hinting towards anything in specific.

Of course, it is indeed hinting towards something specific.  The young woman is Frances (ChloëGrace Moretz), and the bag has been left on purpose, as Frances soon finds out, by Greta (Isabelle Huppert).  Greta’s goal is simple – to lure some unsuspecting young woman to her apartment, to force a friendship upon her, and to act out a sick game she has played more than once in the past.

“Greta” is not, whatever it’s breezy opening may suggest, a nice quiet little film about love and loss.  Oh, it is indeed about love and loss and it is relatively quiet, but it is not nice.  It is dark and disturbing and all rather troubling, and it is able to mix those elements together to create something largely intriguing.

Directed by Neil Jordan, with a screenplay by Jordan and Ray Wright, the movie delves deeply into the psyche of Greta, a woman who has suffered many losses during her life, and perhaps has been the cause of some of them.  With Frances, Greta has found the perfect plaything, a young woman who recently lost her mother, and who is happy to accept Greta as a replacement, even if Frances doesn’t realize that’s what’s she’s doing.

Jordan offers up this game of cat and mouse with aplomb.  Frances is slowly entranced by Greta, seeing her more and more despite Frances’ roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe), warning Frances that there is something off about the relationship.  Once Frances realizes that Erica is on the money, it is too late and she can’t shake the older woman.

Here, too, Jordan works some wonders – taking us into Frances’s living nightmare,  showing us the ways Frances tries to avoid Greta, and the ways she continually fails.  Further and further we go into the world until Frances is in Greta’s grasp, a sequence which plays out with great imagination.

But, as good as the descent is, there is something about it that never quite feels right.  The reasons that the police won’t help feel off.  Frances, a waitress, is told by her boss that she must wait on Greta at the restaurant, despite his being informed that Greta is a stalker (Frances is reminded that Greta has a reservation!).  Some of the line readings fall flat.  This compelling, disturbing, relationship is hampered by notes that don’t work, and to that point, despite the perfection of the opening song, the film’s score is too over the top to be satisfying.

In the end, “Greta” is a good movie.  It is a solid thriller that may not keep you guessing, but will certainly keep you watching. A few too many of the moments are jarring for it to be a complete success, but the relish with which Huppert plays her role combined with Moretz’s ability to portray the growing horror of Frances’s life, makes “Greta” an enjoyable thriller. Well, that is, it’s enjoyable in the way that only something dark and nefarious can be and it will certainly cause one to think twice before taking on the part of the good Samaritan.

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photo credit:  Focus Features

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