Friday, March 1, 2019

'Greta' Isn't Great, But Isabelle Huppert Is

She still has CDs. Clearly she's nuts.

Greta is a pretty standard stalker-centered horror film that does nothing new, and yet, because of its pedigree, almost feels fresh. Isabelle Huppert, who has, apparently, never met a crazy lady character she didn't like, stars as the titular Greta. Oscar-winning director Neil Jordan films it like one of his dark fairy tales, setting it in a calm, dark, and quiet New York that's home to mysterious carriage houses with secret rooms, and young women who, when they come across a lost handbag on a subway, don't pocket the cash and toss it away, but instead track down its owner, all the way to picturesque Brooklyn.

Chloë Grace Moretz is the naive Frances, bag finder. Originally from Boston, she's living with her rich friend Erica (Maika Monroe) in Manhattan, working as a waitress, and trying to get over the recent death of her mother. When Frances returns the handbag to Greta in her Brooklyn carriage house, she finds a lonely French widow who misses her daughter, who is close to France's age, and away studying music in Paris. Both women have very obvious voids in their lives that they're aching to fill, and their meeting seems like a fortuitous accident.

Frances offers to help Greta get a dog, joins her on lunch dates, and takes joy in the friendship, all while her friend Erica tells her it seems a little...weird. Of course, Erica is right, and Frances soon learns her meeting Greta wasn't really an accident, and Greta is not the type of woman who takes France's attempts at ghosting lightly.

If you've ever seen a "Crazy Lady" movie, you can guess what follows. Crazy lady won't be ignored! Animals won't fare well. She'll have an uncanny ability to show up everywhere, silently. One sequence has Greta stalking Erica while texting photos of her to Frances, a thrilling bit of filmmaking that's both a modern take on Rear Window, and a sly nod to Maika Monroe's previous appearance in the horror movie It Follows.

Isabelle Huppert has excelled at playing unhinged women for decades, and compared to someone like Ericka in The Piano Teacher, or Hélène in Ma Mère, Greta may seem downright tame. In fact, it is when Greta is at her most calm that she is scariest. Watching her stand silent and still outside a restaurant window for hours is much more chilling than her screaming and flipping tables.

All the performances in Greta are better than the material deserves, including Moretz's kindly and then terrified Frances, and Stephen Rea (it's a Neil Jordan movie, after all) as a very tired detective for hire. (If they ever do a live action version of the Droopy Dog cartoons, he's your man.) As the story gets more and more ridiculous, enjoyment comes less from the surprises of the plot, and more from the continuing surprise that is seeing an actress like Isabelle Huppert in a slasher movie. It's almost like watching one of those commercials movie stars will film in Japan but never in the U.S. You wonder what the hell they're doing that for, and yet, you can't stop watching.

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