Greta is a nail-biter of a psychological thriller with a heavy dose of camp, tempered by excellent performances from its female leads.
Greta (Isabelle Huppert) accidentally leaves her handbag on the subway, and Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), being a kind soul, returns it to her. Greta lives a life filled with loneliness. Her daughter has abandoned her, her dog has died, so has her husband, and she has noisy neighbors. This leads to the beginning of a beautiful, sweet friendship between a lonely old woman and the naive, innocent girl. They bond over their own separate losses, connecting, spending time together, cooking together, adopting a sad dog together—they even begin to dress alike.
Then, the sinister reality hits. Frances discovers a cabinet filled with purses identical to the one she recovered on the train, each labeled with a name and a phone number of another woman. Greta has done this before. This woman has taken in more than one girl, just wanting to mother them. But what has happened to them?
Frances desperately tries to avoid Greta’s increased interest in her, which transforms from care and worry into full-blown stalking. The police shrug her off because Greta’s just an old woman–what’s she going to do? But things spiral out of control and into some truly unnerving territory, as Frances just can’t shake Greta’s clutches. She’s “like chewing gum. She tends to stick around.” But Greta’s gum has lost its flavor and then gotten stuck on your shoe–not the good kind.
Greta’s impetus makes this film so tense. Hers is the scariest kind of crazy: she’s convinced herself that she’s right, acting for Frances’ own good. She’s overflowing with the desperation that comes with the bitterness of loneliness and abandonment. To fill the void in her life, she gaslights her victim (and those around her) and enacts Munchausen by proxy. And that’s just the beginning.
Isabelle Huppert is chilling—a French Annie Wilkes—and masterful. She’s earnest, shocking, desperately lonely, and surprisingly, believably dangerous. Huppert threatens to steal the show from our hero, which makes sense because she’s got top billing and the title role–but she’s delightfully mad and deliciously deadly. But that’s not to undercut Chloë Grace Moretz’s job here. Over the years, we’ve seen her in all sorts of roles, but she adequately sells the intensity and the horror of her situation. Again, another actress outshines her with just a bit more verve and nerve than our protagonist: Maika Monroe (from It Follows and The Guest) as Erica, Frances’ roommate. She’s funny and light–a good foil to the darker role that Moretz must play.
But let’s talk about some great, groundbreaking stuff here: how rare is it to have a 65-year-old woman as the fearsome villain serial killer? Even rarer, Greta features three female stars and no male romantic interest. Erica mentions a cute guy in one scene, but that’s not the central theme here. We’ve got women living together and fighting for life, saving one another (and, admittedly, one of them is trying to kill the other), but the point is that this film highlights the sheer humanity of its female characters–the good and the bad, the light and the dark.
I have to give it to Greta, it’s a tense, often terrifying slow burn. Director Neil Jordan pulls off more than one bait and switch, keeping us on the hook and waiting to see where he’ll take us next.