‘Greta’ Review: Thrills Don’t Get Cheaper Than This

     February 28, 2019

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Greta is garbage. I don’t feel like I should have to say much more than that because then I would be putting in more effort than director Neil Jordan did into his bland thriller. Greta is the stuff of suburban legend—the story people who have never been to the city tell each other about how dangerous and psychotic metropolitan areas are. Your good, old-fashioned values from [checks notes] Boston won’t save you here, Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz). Trying to do a good deed will only draw you into a psychopath’s game. And that’s really all Greta is. Character A tries to do something nice for Character B, but Character B is a psychopath who stalks and terrorizes Character A. The end. The story offers up so many interesting opportunities to explore ageism, mother-daughter relationships, co-dependency, and more. Instead, it quickly settles for dull, trite stalker clichés revolving around its one-dimensional characters.

Frances is still grieving over the loss of her mother, but one day while on the subway, she finds an abandoned handbag. She chooses to return it to its owner, Greta (Isabelle Huppert), a lonely woman who tries to start a friendship with Frances. At first, Frances welcomes this maternal figure, who is estranged from her own daughter, but one night at dinner, Frances discovers that Greta leaves handbags all around the city, hoping to ensnare young women. Frances tries to break things off with Greta, but that only makes Greta more determined. It turns out Greta is insane and wants to possess Frances.

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Image via Shane Mahood / Focus Features

And that’s it. If you’ve seen the trailer for Greta, you’ve seen Greta. There are no shocking twists or subversions here. Everything is played completely straight, which means you don’t even get some fun campy moments here. In a world where there aren’t countless other stalker tales, maybe Greta gets points for existing, but we’ve seen this story done before and we’ve seen it done far better. Jordan is so eager to get to the stalking that he doesn’t even bother making us invested in the characters. Frances discovers Greta’s game twenty minutes into the movie. There’s no relationship to even really ruin, and the characters are only defined as “Young woman who lost her mother,” and “Older woman who lost her daughter.” There’s no specificity or definition to Frances and Greta beyond victim and psychopath.

Watching Greta, I couldn’t help but think of how cruel it was, not to the doe-eyed Frances, but to Greta. The film has no sympathy for her, and when movies routinely discard older actresses or relegate them to supporting roles, Greta feels like an insult. Greta doesn’t get to be a person; she’s a monster and as the film continues, it shows a painfully simplistic character devoid of nuance. Huppert is an excellent actress, and Greta gives her nothing to work with. She plays it as a typical, lighthearted psycho, oblivious to the damage her actions are causing. But there’s no love for this character or attempt to see where she’s coming from because the script doesn’t treat her like a real person. She’s a monster, and a poorly drawn one at that.

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Image via Shane Mahood / Focus Features

I wish I knew what the point of this movie was and why anyone would bother to finance and distribute it. Even if you didn’t know that Jordan’s direction would lack personality and flair, you could still look at the basic beats of the story and realize this is nothing special. There are so many interesting avenues to take with the basic framework, and Greta avoids all of them. It does the bare minimum of storytelling with each plot beat more deflating than the last. Greta always opts for the laziest choices possible, and then wants credit for puffing up the fears of simpletons.

If you really believe in what Greta is selling—that there are nefarious people out there ready to kidnap you and lock you up because you had the audacity to return their belongings—I don’t know what to tell you. The premise is ludicrous, but with better direction and writing, Jordan could have played it up to something surprising and memorable. Instead, it’s a by-the-numbers crazy stalker flick that does a disservice to everyone involved.

Rating: F

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