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Girl stalk – ‘Greta’

March 6, 2019
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We’ve largely worked our way through the winter doldrums at the movies. It won’t be long before the deluge of big-budget blockbusters and franchise tentpoles begins in earnest. However, there are still a few stragglers hitting screens, films that have been thrust out into the market because if not now, when?

One such movie is “Greta,” a film you may not have even heard about (not many did, if the box office numbers are any indication). This despite some top-notch talent leading the cast and a well-regarded writer-director returning to the big screen for the first time in the better part of a decade. And yet, aside from a few interesting choices both in front of and behind the camera, the film is a largely forgettable thriller, a movie that we’ve seen a dozen times before.

Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz, “Suspiria”) is a recent college graduate trying to make her way in New York City. She’s a waitress at an upscale restaurant, but she still gets to live in a beautiful loft apartment – her friend Erica’s (Maika Monroe, “Tau”) wealthy father bought the place as a graduation present. Frances is a bit lost and a bit lonely; she’s mourning the recent death of her mother.

When she finds a lost handbag on the subway, Frances decides to try and track down the owner to return it. This leads her to meet Greta Hideg (Isabella Huppert, “Eva”). Greta is older, a lonely woman who has lost her husband and only infrequently sees her daughter, who lives in Paris. The two lost souls strike up a friendship, with Frances and Greta going on outings and cooking together and generally embracing one another’s company.

It all takes a sinister turn, however, when Frances inadvertently stumbles onto a secret indicating that Greta’s motivations may be different – and much darker – than she ever could have guessed. And when that discovery leads Frances to try and end the relationship, cutting Greta out of her life proves to be anything but easy.

As the situation escalates, Frances starts to fear for her safety and the safety of those around her. Meanwhile, Greta refuses to let it go; she repeatedly proves more than willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants.

And what she wants … is Frances.

“Greta” is honestly pretty standard fare for the most part. The whole stalker thriller subgenre has been ebbing and flowing for decades now, and the reality is that this one doesn’t bring much to the table that’s new. You’ve seen it all before.

Now, that isn’t to say that it’s poorly executed; far from it. As idiosyncratic as he might be, there’s no disputing Neil Jordan’s talents as a filmmaker. Sure, his best-known offerings are a quarter-century old at this point – “The Crying Game” and “Interview with the Vampire” are basically dots in the rearview – but he’s never been one to be overly concerned with being trapped by tropes. It’s a well-made movie … just not a particularly innovative one.

There are some big, weird moments – a Jordan hallmark. And these moments are delivered with scenery-gnawing glee by Isabella Huppert. From the get-go, it’s clear that there’s something strange going on with Greta, but it is when Huppert is allowed to just let it all hang out that it gets really good. She’s just so campily unhinged that it’s hard not to enjoy her performance. Does it border on (and occasionally cross over into) parody? Yes. That doesn’t make it any less engaging. It’s a performance to be appreciated, even if it’s pretty much SOP for Huppert at this point.

Moretz hangs in there dutifully, giving her all in a performance that doesn’t really give her a lot to work with. Her job here is to be reactive rather than active, following Huppert’s lead throughout. That’s not a dig, by the way – letting someone else drive the scene while still remaining dynamic is hard, and she does a good job with it. It’s just that it’s a bit of a thankless job; if she gets it right, all anyone will be talking about is her co-star. That said, she’s in just about every scene and handles it all nicely.

It’s tough to talk about the weird parts of “Greta” without spoiling the particulars, but you can rest assured – it gets weird. And the weirder it gets, the better Huppert gets (for instance, keep an eye out for the dancing; you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it). But that weird veneer isn’t enough to elevate this movie much beyond genre standards.

At its best, “Greta” offers some pulpy B-movie fun delivered by A-list talent, but those moments are a bit too infrequent for this film to really soar. It’s worth seeing for those parts where the freak flag is really flying, but ultimately, it’s just another stalker thriller.

[2.5 out of 5]

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