Greta is a stalker film, but one that is so deeply unsettling at times that it continuously walks the line between being a psychological thriller and a straight up horror film. The relationship, rather than being about a spurned lover or an obsessive weirdo, is a little bit different. It’s between a young woman and an older widow who are both lonely and both seeking companionship, and it’s a friendship that grows naturally before inevitably souring into something that grows more and more sinister. Greta doesn’t exactly break a ton of new ground, but it’s a very creepy flick that will satisfy anyone seeking out some cheap thrills.
Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a young woman who has just recently moved to New York City. She waits tables to make a living and rides her bike around the city, seemingly wanting to stay grounded and connected to the simpler lifestyle that she’s grown up with, rather than join her roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe), in the superficial party scene of The Big Apple. One day, Frances discovers a handbag that’s been abandoned on the subway. She tracks down the owner of the bag, an older woman named Greta (Isabelle Huppert), who is incredibly thankful for Frances’ kindness. The two quickly form a close friendship. They cook dinner together, Greta teaches Frances how to play the piano, and Frances encourages Greta to adopt a dog. The two of them are filling holes in their hearts – Frances lost her mother only a year ago, and Greta is a widow who’s daughter is far away in France.
Erica expresses concerns and doubts about her roommate’s unusual relationship with this lonely older woman, but Frances ignores her warnings. She eventually discovers a disturbing secret about Greta, and she’s shaken enough by it that she attempts to cut Greta off and not spend any more time with her. But she becomes a lot more difficult to get rid of than anyone would think, and Frances is left living a life without a single moment of comfort, and it’s only getting worse. She probably wishes that she had never returned that handbag.
Director Neil Jordan nails down exactly what makes stalker behavior so terrifying; the victim never has a second of peace, not really. Frances’ attempts to avoid Greta become more and more futile, and the more overbearing her former friend becomes, the more anxious our protagonist gets. Once Frances tries to get away from Greta, the film goes into playing on psychological terrors. She’s constantly unable to sleep peacefully, work is no longer a safe place, and she’s always looking over her shoulder and she walks through the city. We feel every bit of Frances’ fears and a creeping feeling of claustrophobia as she tries to hide and put distance between her and Greta, and her helplessness only grows more and more.
Moretz easily sells the terror and anxiety, but it’s Huppert’s performance that steals the show. She switches back and forth from a sweet motherly figure to a dead-eyed maniac seamlessly and without warning, and Greta’s paralyzing presence shoots her to the top of the list for some of horror’s best villains. She stalks not only Frances but Erica as well, sending taunting images to the girls and propelling them even deeper into a state of panic. Greta tiptoes and sways and dances around her home as she commits murder and other terrible acts, and her evil deeds are supported by unsettling classical piano music or indie-sounding pop songs, a bit of a fun stylistic choice. Huppert is utterly terrifying in the role, able to disarm you with her empathetic sadness only to drug you and lock you up within the same breath.
Greta only escalates further and further, but the brilliance of its first two acts are how much is left to the audience’s fears and imaginations. Greta doesn’t exactly do anything to Frances at first, and it’s part of the reason why the police are incredibly unhelpful in the situation. She stands across the street from Frances’ work, simply staring all day, she bombards her phone with calls and texts, and she ambushes her outside her apartment. But she never lays a finger on her until the third act, and by that point, the tension has reached its boiling point so that the horror of the lengths that Greta is willing to go to are revealed and the power of those scenes are enough to make anyone jumpy.
Greta has a pretty simple premise but the execution of it, coupled with terrific performances from the main three women, are what help it stand out. I was rolling my eyes at Erica’s first couple of scenes, disappointed in the tired, stereotypical portrayal of a looks-obsessed “mean girl”, but she surprisingly ends up becoming one of the best parts of the film, much to my delight. Unfortunately for Moretz’s character, Frances going through an arc or change comes to a halt halfway through the film, and she’s stuck playing the victim who quickly exhausts the options she has to save herself. Still, you’ll be rewarded if you stick with Greta. It only gets better, creepier and more unsettling as it goes on, and Huppert truly stands out, saving an otherwise mundane script.
3 / 5 Stars