Review: 'Greta' Can’t Escape Clichéd Writing
A naïve girl rides the New York subway after work where she discovers a lost purse. Upon returning it to its owner, a lonely older woman, the two become friends. When Greta (Isabelle Huppert) worries that this young woman will eventually move on and leave her, Frankie (Chloë Grace Moretz) promises her she’s like chewing gum: she sticks around. However, Greta’s attachment grows much too close for comfort, and Frankie finds herself the subject of a deadly fixation. Though much like gum, the longer you consume Greta, the more stale and unsatisfying it gets.
The first act does a decent job setting up its characters. Moretz plays a youthful twenty-something living with her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe) in her exorbitant high rise apartment. The recent death of her mother has estranged Frankie from her father, and she works a thankless job as a waitress to support herself. Moretz and Huppert have a palpable chemistry, and the beginning of their relationship works quite well. Frankie is convincingly sweet and sensitive, seeing Greta as a kindred spirit. The dread begins when Frankie learns that she may not be the first young woman to be lured in by the promise of a benevolent motherly figure.
The film then abruptly launches into a thriller as Greta plays a game of cat and mouse and Frankie’s paranoia eats away at her. Unfortunately, to sustain the tension, Greta asks a great deal from the audience when it comes to disbelief. It relies on the idea that an older woman could trail a girl unseen from a club to an alley to a city bus, and that an early 2000s Nokia can take long distance high res surveillance photos. Overall, the problems with the film stem from a script co-written by Ray Wright and director Neil Jordan. Moretz and Huppert are without a doubt immensely talented and hardworking, but they never quite have the proper chance to convince us of the plot because they must constantly deliver canned exclamations and exposition. Wright and Jordan also deal heavily in the clichés of the genre. Greta plays hard into the Big City apathy from its background characters, with blunt lines like “welcome to New York,” when Frankie tells her coworker she’s being stalked. Was this directly lifted from a snarky and indifferent waitress in horror classic Jason Takes Manhattan? We’d have to ask Neil Jordan. Regardless, it’s clear we are supposed to believe country mouse Frankie is out of her depth with no one left to turn to, but it’s cartoonish in execution.
The score is the script’s partner in crime, overemphasizing every suspenseful moment to near absurdity. The film doesn’t seem confident that its narrative beats can stand out on their own. By compensating with the kind of score audiences have been trained to anticipate, it diminishes any individuality. The injection of this unnatural music also undercuts good performances and drowns out any quality atmospheric effects. The single sound moment that finally hits its stride is when Huppert dances over a murdered body along to a piano sonata. Dark yet playful, and more entertaining than the parts played too seriously.
The buried lead here is that this film makes no effort to hide the fact that it is an attempt to emulate Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Frankie, like Marion Crane, is the latest young girl ensnared by Greta and doomed to never leave her home. Erica comes into a role unto Lila Crane to rescue her, which is one of the more fulfilling and exciting moments of the third act. The similarity is even complete with a private investigator who is a one to one replication of Detective Arbogast, meeting a similar fate. Even the skeletons in the basement are duplicated. Jordan is taking some contemporary liberties, but it fails to stir up the same Hitchcock-ian magic it sources itself from.
The ending of the film features both low and high points. The lowest being a dream sequence that goes on about 2 minutes too long in order to fake out the audience with no payoff. It is disappointing when a film violates the bond of trust with the viewer in such a way that makes its later scares less affective. At that point, the script has already gone through a number of turns that don’t amount to much in the end. The film doesn’t even offer much resolution or resolute outcome as Frankie doesn’t get the last laugh. It ends rather suddenly with the insinuation that Greta isn’t completely thwarted. One positive development at the end is Erica’s growth in character. Set up to be the spoiled helpless best friend who dies first, it’s fun to watch her reveal how she outwitted her adversary to save the day. Again, the main cast is abundantly talented, so it’s worth the watch if your expectations for the whole package are relatively low. Neil Jordan has definitely achieved more in past productions, my personal favorite being his sumptuous adaptation of Interview with the Vampire. This one, however, just misses its mark.
If you’re seeking a high quality Chloë Grace Moretz vehicle, please watch The Miseducation of Cameron Post.