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‘Greta’ review: Menacing mommy issues

Neil Jordan’s ‘Greta’ is a campy psychological B-movie thriller elevated by its A-list talents.

If you find an unattended handbag on the subway, what will be your first course of action? Do you ignore it? Do you claim it for yourself? Or do you report it to the guards on duty? For the young waitress Frankie McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), it’s only rightful to peruse the contents for an identification, and personally deliver the bag to the owner’s house. This is the first of the many mistakes that Frankie does in the psychological-thriller Greta. The film’s premise borrows from the ‘90s stalker sub-genre – it’s as campy and as wacky as it can be. And yet because of its pedigree to that era, it almost feels fresh and exciting.

Frankie’s act of kindness leads her to a lonely French widow Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert) and the two instantly spark a maternal connection. You see, Frankie is recently devastated with the loss of her mother, while Greta is badly missing her estranged daughter. As they bond over motherly activities like adopting a dog and cooking dinner, Frankie’s best friend/voice of reason Erica (Maika Monroe) is mystified with their sudden closeness. “You’ve totally adopted this woman!” she says with a jolt of bratty millennial energy. Turns out, she has every right to be concerned for her friend. Frankie finds a stock of identical bags in Greta’s cabinet, suggesting that she deliberately sought her out. Greta’s solitude might just be a disguise for something sinister.

Something’s cooking inside Greta’s mind.
Chloë Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert in ‘Greta.’

From there, the film’s central theme of ‘mommy issues’ evolves into an obsession. Despite Frankie’s efforts to avoid her, Greta floods her phone with texts and voicemails, lurks outside the restaurant where she works and later, books a reservation. She keeps her stalking behavior within the boundaries of law but after being ignored for multiple times, she finally goes batsh*t crazy. The film’s highlight is a well-crafted sequence of Greta now decidedly stalking Erica while sending a stream of real-time photos to Frankie. Director Neil Jordan sets up a good pace in building up the tension in his proceedings. Within the span of 98 minutes, he squeezes in a lot of gruesome stuff – stalking, kidnapping and torturing. By then, the film goes off the rails, that all the silliness in its narrative don’t really seem to matter anymore.

For a film titled Greta, the eponymous character’s psychology is not much really delved to ground her preposterous actions. She remains enigmatic throughout with her madness as only an indication of her dark past. Still, there’s a sense of demented joy in watching a fantastic Huppert deftly transition from diplomatic to hysterical, from menacing to murderous, without ever losing her maternal vibe. She is the major reason to watch this film in the first place. There’s also intensity and pathos in Moretz despite her sympathetic and seemingly-rational character doing a lot of unintelligible decisions. Confronted with a barrage of calls from Greta, Frankie never blocks her calls nor puts her phone into silent mode. She’s a bit of a passive player. Had Erica been in her place, this film will all come to a premature end.

“I’m like a bubblegum, I tend to stick around.”
Maika Monroe and Chloë Grace Moretz in ‘Greta.’

It might not seem like it, but Greta is actually an elevated B-movie in disguise. Thrills aside, there’s not much subtext going on here. At it’s best, it shows how insanity masks in the face of loneliness, that such thing is for losers and psychos. Except that it’s not. It can work as a cautionary tale to never give away your personal information to anyone. That, however, is a general rule that you should know by now.

For the most part, it’s predictable but thoroughly enjoyable – especially that one involving a creative double fake-out sequence. It has the chance to fully own its campiness yet it settles for a dimwit ending to leave the door open for a possible sequel. Boosted by a slick direction and unhinged performances, Greta is a hard-to-resist, nail-biter that sends chills of suspense and anxiety to your spine. You can take it with silliness or sincerity, whichever you prefer.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Neil Jordan and written by Ray Wright and Neil Jordan, ‘Greta‘ stars Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea and Zawe Ashton. 98 minutes. R-13.
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