The script for Greta seems a lot like a Frankenstein golem, a lumbering construct of thrillers plucked from the $1 DVD bin of a Walmart: Fatal Attraction, Psycho, Single White Female, and many others get stitched together, forming a brand new monster in the process. The movie that sits up and lurches off the table may have a lot of familiar pieces, but the strange thing is that the sum of those parts ends up being weirdly fascinating. Greta offers solid performances and flickering sparks of genuine entertainment. The whole thing may grow heavy and clunky from clichés, but hey…it’s alive!
Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) plays a young woman grieving over the recent loss of her mother. She buries herself in work as a waitress at a posh New York City restaurant. Frances discovers an unattended black purse on a subway ride home. Kind and naive, Frances returns the handbag to its owner, a soft-spoken widow named Greta (Isabelle Huppert). Greta lives in prim loneliness, in a brownstone that looks like it was decorated from Stephen King’s Home and Garden Monthly. A bond forms between Greta and Frances, soothing a mutual ache. They shop and confide with each other, much to the chagrin of Erica (Maika Monroe), Frances’ vaguely bitchy BFF. Turns out Erica’s spidey-sense was spot on: Greta becomes obsessed with Frances, and soon latches onto her with the relentless, psychotic abandon of one of those face-hugging aliens. As Frances grows increasingly alarmed, Greta turns even more delusional and dependent.
You may be thinking you’ve seen this movie before. I’ll admit those $1 bins are a guilty pleasure of mine. But damned if this movie still didn’t involve me. Moretz plays such a likable, guileless lead, it’s hard not to root for her. Huppert’s Greta wobbles between proud and pitiful, which makes her wounded widow feel more compelling than this movie probably deserves. These skilled performers sizzle on screen, and raise this movie’s watchability several notches. Also a big plus is the steady hand of Irish director Neil Jordan, who keeps the action taut and the atmosphere tense.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of Greta will largely be determined by your ability to surrender to its goofiness. The final act of the movie takes it off the rails and into the ravine, and it invites you to leap into the canyon of silliness with it. Lapses in logic and credibility grow larger with each successive scene, and the only options are to roll your eyes or just shrug and go along with it. I picked the latter and found myself mildly entertained. Someday, Greta will take its rightful place next to The Hand that Rocks the Cradle in the bargain bin. Hell, when that day comes, I might just buy ’em both.