Greta is a funny film. I mean that genuinely, although it’s intention is to be a tense thrill ride. It never quite lives up to that because the content of the film feels too rushed and fleeting, whereas suspense thrives on dragging out terror in excruciating detail. Instead, Greta settles into absurd idiosyncrasies that will certainly make theater crowds giggle. Those in the crowd I watched the film with laughed a lot. But at no point did the crowd feel gripped. It seemed like everyone accepted that this was a silly B movie with no real lasting impact.
The film stars Chloe Grace Moretz as Frances, a waitress at a fancy New York restaurant. She lives a modest life with her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe), but is troubled with her estranged relationship with her father (Colm Feore) which is a direct result of her mother’s death due to cancer. But everything changes for Frances when she finds a purse on the subway that was left behind by an elderly woman. Frances tracks the woman down and that’s when we meet Greta (Isabelle Huppert).
At first, Greta is a kind, loving woman who bonds with Frances over her own family drama. Greta is widowed, and dealing with an estranged relationship with her daughter. Naturally, Frances and Greta see each other as mother/daughter surrogates, and develop a bond. They play piano together, cook together, and spend many nights in each other’s company to the chagrin of a suspicious Erica. It isn’t until Frances discovers that their “chance” meeting was actually orchestrated by Greta from the start that she believes Erica’s cries of concern. This revelation also marks the first time in movie history that a shelf filled with purses elicits a dramatic and unsettling reaction from the film’s score.
Frances attempts to ghost Greta, but this only causes Greta to become needier, sneakier, and eventually batshit crazy. There’s a middle section of the film that’s dedicated to Greta just coming into a scene unexpectedly, and part of me wanted to see that continue if only for the bizarre places the filmmakers could have this woman pop out of. This all escalates to a point where Erica and Frances’ father must band together to deal with the problem, but the second half of the film feels so restrained. Other than a gag involving a finger, this feels like every thriller you saw in 2006. The script doesn’t do enough to stack the deck in Greta’s favor, as Frances is put in situations where you wonder why she doesn’t just knock Greta the hell out – surely she can take this frail, unarmed elderly woman. There’s also a “reveal” that only works if you believe that Greta has the memory of a goldfish.
The rather limp execution of the film is not the fault of the actors. Huppert is acting her ass off and you can tell she WANTS to really go for it with this insane character, but the screenplay feels like 2 steps behind the performance. Still, her performance is entertainingly bizarre, even if it’s never intimidating. Moretz is very likable and enjoyable. Her moments of sadness while dealing with her the memory of her mother feel genuine, and the sweetness she initially displays toward Greta is appropriately balanced with the disdain she has for her later. Monroe is great support as Erica, providing much of the film’s comic relief. Even as the camera is in love with photographing her yoga poses, Erica still feels like a real character as opposed to a prop. It’s only when she’s faced with saving her friend in a dire situation does Monroe’s performance feel a bit flat.
While watching Greta, I was never bored but I felt unresponsive to most of it. It’s like eating an apple; you’re going to get full, but you’re not exactly having the time of your life. There’s a better version of this film where the script takes advantage of the fully capable actors and allows them to push the limits of where these characters can go. Greta is a suspense thriller, but never feels like it. Instead of being intense, edge-of-your-seat theater, it’s just mildly amusing. It’s not terrible. But unlike a little green purse, you won’t take it home with you.