Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz), newly transplanted to NYC, finds an expensive handbag on the subway. Of course, she dutifully returns it to its owner, a lonely older woman (Isabelle Huppert), and they soon become fast friends – until Frances uncovers the truth about “Greta.”
Isabelle Huppert and Neil Jordan. How can you go wrong? First off, what was writer/director Jordan thinking? The story, by the director and Ray Wright, is wrought with clichés of other stories and their elements – “Misery (1990),” “Psych (1960),” “Room (2015)” and, for some reason, “Dressed to Kill (1980)” came to mind.
Second, and more important, is Isabelle Huppert as the monster. I have followed her career since she first came to my attention in “Heaven’s Gate (1980)” and she has been a favorite actor of mine ever since. So, why did she agree to play the psychotic bad guy in a highly credentialed but, still, a B-movie, and not a very good one? I have to say I am stymied.
Chloe Grace Moritz fares best as the naïve and trusting young woman who is, at first, duped by Greta’s kindly and desperately lonely façade. The cracks in the older woman’s pretence appear very soon (too soon to build suspense) and Frances tries to break off the budding surrogate mother/daughter relationship. Greta, of course, will not accept this and things quickly spiral down for the beleaguered young woman. Veterans Stephen Rea and Colm Feore are wasted in their incidental roles.
I expected more from a filmmaker the caliber of Neil Jordan. It is telling that, during moments of high tension, I heard guffaws from members of the audience. And, it is the first time that I did not like Huppert in a movie. Alas. I give it a C.
As Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) exits the NYC subway, she spies a green handbag left unattended and takes it to the Lost and Found window. But no one is there, so she tells her best friend and roommate Erica (Maika Monroe), who has voted to spend the cash inside, that she intends to return it to its owner herself. Entering an arched facade from the street, Frances arrives at a fairy tale carriage house where the young woman who’s recently lost her mother will find a lonely widowed piano teacher whose only child lives in Paris. As Frances begins spending more and more time with the woman, Erica warns her not to trust “Greta.”
Has cowriter (with “The Crazies’” Ray Wright)/director Neil Jordan (“The Company of Wolves,” “The Crying Game”) lost his mind? Presumably, he’s meant “Greta” to play straight, a psychological thriller purportedly examining grief and loss. Instead he may have a camp classic on his hands as the movie is a howler, a cheesy horror film gussied up with big stars and slick production. After a long and rich international career, this is the first time Huppert has disappointed, committed to the wiggier aspects of her character but offering nothing that isn’t skin deep. A lot of the blame lies with a screenplay that introduces issues then abandons them while throwing logic to the winds.
Take, for example, Erica’s reaction to Greta’s handbag. It’s been established that she’s so wealthy, her dad bought her the modern Tribeca loft she and Frankie share as a graduation gift, so why does she immediately vote to steal a couple hundred dollars from a stranger? And why is she so immediately suspicious of said stranger she warns Frankie not to return the bag? Her suspicions may bear out, but they are wildly premature.
Despite Erica’s overreaction, the movie works for a while. Frankie accepts Greta’s invitation for coffee, entering a house that is as much European fairy tale in its interior as its exterior. Frankie notes photographs of Greta’s husband, daughter and old pet and commiserates, suggesting perhaps Greta should get a new dog. Greta demurs, but takes Frankie’s information (she’s offered to help, having a connection with a local shelter) in case she changes her mind. She does, the very next day, and the next dog up for ‘PTS,’ Morton, finds a new home. But when Frankie accepts an invitation to dinner and goes to hunt for candlesticks, she makes a disturbing find, a cabinet stocked with identical green handbags, all bearing sticky notes with women’s names and numbers. Frankie claims sudden illness and leaves. Greta begins a stalking campaign which threatens Erica and escalates to a violent outburst at the fine dining restaurant where Frankie is a waitress.
The best scene in the film involves Greta following Erica, shooting surreptitious photos on the phone she claimed she could not operate, sending them to a panicked Frankie who in turn rings Erica. It’s a well shot, well edited sequence that really amps up tension. But even here, the filmmakers cheat, Erica’s inabiliity to spot Greta inexplicable. The whole film comes crashing down once Greta’s released from the psych ward she’s taken to after her restaurant rampage, Huppert hamming it up as a psychopathic madwoman. Private detective Brian Cody (Stephen Rea), hired by Greta’s worried dad (Colm Feore) promptly finds her and just as promptly disappears, but the NYC police cannot locate her leading to a most ridiculous finale.
The film’s production design, cinematography (Seamus McGarvey uses some unsettling closeups, although one is a bridge too far) and costume design (Joan Bergin) cannot be faulted, but the film’s insistent musical theme of Franz Liszt’s Liebesträume (Love Dream) never catches fire. The screenplay is half baked at best, one character, Alexa Hammond (Zawe Ashton), introduced with intriguing information that fails to illuminate anything, leaving us to wonder what was left on the cutting room floor. Chloë Grace Moretz creates a sympathetic character, but she’s surrounded by others who fail to make sense.
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