I hesitate to call Greta good, but is this movie that basically serves as a warning about being nice to older people effective? Yes! My friend and I grabbed each other and shrieked, and we were at a crowded theater in which more than once a fellow audience member yelled, “Kill the bitch!” So, yeah. Greta gets people riled up, and that’s entirely thanks to Isabelle Huppert’s bonkers energy.
You’ll recognize the broad strokes of this story from director Neil Jordan (whose previous works include The Crying Game, Interview with the Vampire, The Brave One, and Byzantium), who also co-wrote the script; the thriller overlaps with others in this genre like Single White Female, and if you squint a little bit, Get Out. (They share the same “Old white people are evil!” mentality). But the familiarity is balanced out by Huppert, who just fucking goes for it. She is feisty and fiery and fantastic, playing her character with self-awareness and verve, and she gets the tone of Greta exactly right.
If she played it more seriously, the movie wouldn’t be as fun, and if she played it more goofily, the movie wouldn’t be as scary. And, in some scenes, it is legitimately horrifying, tapping into fears about crossed boundaries and claustrophobic spaces, about motherhood as a smothering force instead of a supportive one, about the possibility of being one forgotten person in a city full of other people who don’t care whether you disappear. Maybe that’s giving Greta more credit than it deserves—this is still a movie in which Huppert spits a piece of chewing gum into Chloë Grace Moretz’s hair!—but I think that subtext is there, if you look for it.
Greta focuses on fresh college graduate Frances (Moretz), who lives with her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe) in a gorgeous loft Erica’s father bought her. (It looks like a place where Urban Outfitters would stage photoshoots, and I was very jealous the whole time.) Frances is living a quiet life as a server at a fancy restaurant, mourning the death of her mother the year before, and taking the subway to and from work every day. (First point of suspicion: How clean the subway cars are!) Because she’s from Boston, Frances cares about doing the right thing (I don’t understand why Boston was assigned this philosophy? The same people who root for Tom Brady? I’m side-eyeing the hell out of this), and so when she comes across a handbag left on a seat, she digs into it, finds the owner, and rides her bike to Brooklyn to return it. (Second point of suspicion: Frances never wears a bike helmet. Not even once! WHY ARE YOU INVITING SUCH DANGER INTO YOUR LIFE?)
The owner of the purse, Greta (Huppert), is a petite French woman, chic and polite, friendly and lonely, and Frances is drawn to her immediately. Greta says that her daughter lives in Paris, and Frances shares that her mother recently passed away, and so the two of them offer support to each other. They adopt a dog, they go on walks, they cook dinner, they see a movie. Erica thinks the whole dynamic is weird, and it all happens quickly, but doesn’t everyone need a friend?
As you know from the trailers for Greta, this relationship unravels, and Jordan offers a variety of unexpected and creepy moments to help us get there. The film frames Huppert excellently, focusing on her array of raised eyebrows and knowing grins, and uses sound quite well too, cueing some jump scares while leaving others to be total surprises. And although Moretz doesn’t quite match Huppert’s energy, between this film and Suspiria, she’s building a nice career for herself in roles that explore the fragility of young adulthood. You’ll yell at her for being overly trusting, but that’s a narrative function of the character, and Moretz sells motivations that make sense throughout.
Stepping outside of the narrative, though, Greta is one of those movies in which most everyone who lives in New York City is white; the only character I remember who is a person of color is a clueless police officer whose shrugging reaction to Greta’s behavior is mocked in the film. So that’s not great! But at the same time, if you want to read into Greta that this character is able to exist because of social norms that ignore the concerns of women suffering from domestic abuse while also turning a blind eye to the evils of older white women, then I suppose an environment that doesn’t allow people of color inside its boundaries would make sense. (But there’s also a moment when Greta yells at someone in defense of her actions, “I’m a naturalized citizen!”, and yeah, that was weird and also not great.)
“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?” asks Greta, and when a matriarchal figure tries to guilt-trip you with that shit, run. Run away! And do something nice for a senior citizen after you see Greta, to even out the universe’s karmic balance.
[I normally embed trailers here, but I personally think the Greta trailers give too much away. Y’all know how to YouTube it if you desire!]
Image sources (in order of posting): Focus Features, Focus Features, Focus Features, Focus Features