Isabelle Huppert stalks Chloë Grace Moretz through the streets of New York City in the fitfully lurid, occasionally stylish and ultimately inconsequential little thriller Greta. The film is not without its charms, chief among them a scenery-chewing performance from Huppert. She plays Greta Hideg, a self-confessed lonely old woman who has taken to leaving handbags behind on various New York City subway carriages, as a way of luring naïve do-gooders into returning the bags and then spending time with her.
The film begins with Chloë Grace Moretz’s Frances finding one such bag. She’s newly arrived in New York City following the death of her mother, working at a high-end restaurant and living in an unbelievably spacious apartment owned by the parents of her roommate Erica (It Follows’ Maika Monroe).
Frances pops over to Greta’s house to return the bag, and before we know it they’re looking for a rescue dog together, taking Saturday strolls through Central Park and cooking dinner for each other, much to Erica’s sceptical protestations. “This city will eat you alive,” she remarks in disbelief at the rapidly blossoming friendship between her friend and this stranger.
She was right, of course, to issue that warning. When Frances discovers a cupboard full of bags in Greta’s house and figures out what she’s doing, she abruptly leaves and tries to cut off all communication with her. Greta doesn’t take the rejection particularly well, and starts stalking the younger woman, inundating her with text messages and voicemails and showing up outside her work.
Urban alienation and social rejection are potent if well-worn themes for this kind of a film, and Greta’s first half is a wry psychological thriller. Scenes where Frances has to deal with Greta arriving at her image-conscious workplace are both tense and funny (as one of Frances’ co-workers says when Greta arrives with a dinner reservation: “Is that your stalker? Good luck.”)
But director Neil Jordan’s filmmaking here strangely flits between flashes of real style and a more rote sensibility. The opening credits are a high-point: they cleverly focus on the handbag being dropped off and picked up, all underscored by Julie London singing Where Are You and thereby setting up the entire film in a few minutes. There are also enjoyable flashes of high camp, most notably in Huppert’s performance, and she compellingly enables Greta’s on-screen transformation from awkward and lonely to deeply disturbed.
But neither the style nor the camp sticks, and there is plenty of mundanely shot, pointless backstory and failed attempts at humour. It’s as if Jordan can’t quite bring himself to either fully revel in the madness of his premise, or use it as a jumping off-point for a stylish genre film, even though choosing either option would make Greta a better film.
What we’re left with is a sporadic collection of interesting moments, and one amazing piece of body horror, interspersed with a whole lot of nothingness. A slightly more heightened version of the urban experience, in other words. Careful who you trust in the city, Greta tries to warn us, but the plea is stifled by the film’s failure to embrace the campy promise of both its concept and star.