When I watched the trailer for this movie and read the description, I was intrigued by the concept. Greta is about a young woman, Frances who finds a handbag on a New York subway and returns it to its owner, Greta, a piano teacher. The pair strike up a friendship. Frances has recently lost her mother and Greta is lonely. But Greta begins acting obsessively and erratically, which leads Frances to try and do whatever she can to escape the toxic relationship before things get out of hand. The idea of a relationship between the two sounded interesting but the film turned out to be a psychological thriller rather than a take on a bad relationship. While interesting, it was not quite what I expected. However, my husband who loves this style of the film did give it a thumbs up.
Directed by Neil Jordan (Academy Award-winning director of The Crying Game) and co-written by Ray Wright and Jordan, the film focuses at first on Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) who has recently lost her mother and is finding life in New York City harder than expected. We can see touches of her boredom as she works in a restaurant. When she meets Greta (Isabelle Huppert), the pair share their loneliness. While Frances is rooming with her best friend, Erica (Maika Monroe), she misses her connection with her mother. Greta fills that void, at least at first. On Greta’s part, her husband is deceased and she is separated from her daughter. While at first, she appears sweet, the film illustrates her possessiveness by her constant touching of Frances (clearly showing how bad touch can be) and her use of pet names, like mon Cherie. One of the indicators that there is a mystery surrounding Greta is that in the opening sequence, you don’t see her face. Her obsession is also clear from the beginning in the way she immediately calls Frances. The director and the writing clearly express the psychological issues with Greta and there are some wonderful scenes that illustrate her madness, throwing furniture in the restaurant where Frances works, spitting gum at her, stalking both her and Frances. These are some of the best moments in the movie.
During the third act, we get a much closer vision of Greta as we see how she controls anyone who comes within her grasp. It is clear in the film that she is a serial killer and near the end, the film explores her twisted actions, her treatment of her victims and how she cycles through the use of the purse to lure in a girl to each girl’s final moments. It is creepy how she stalks those she wants to use and how innocent she appears until the mask disappears. One of my favorite scenes in this final act, as Greta dances and scampers about killing an interloper.
As far as pacing, this is clearly a thriller. The action begins quickly, with Frances finding the handbag and returning it to Greta. Her friend Erica warns her close to the beginning and the movie moves quickly into Greta’s stalking and harm of Frances, threats and Frances’ reaction toward Greta. Frances attempts to be free of Greta take up most of the second act and that fits with the thriller model.
Where the film excels is in its choice of actresses and their performances. Isabel Hubbert is honestly sublime, her intimacy with her castmate, her delight in torture and her sheer rage in the restaurant scene are what sell this movie’s main premise, the kindly woman cast as a villain. Her scene dancing shows how twisted she can be and it is in these moments, you come to almost fear her. Chloë Grace Moretz is empathetic as Frances, believable as an innocent young woman in the city and her dynamic with Isabel Hubbert is sweet and poignant in the first act. Her fear in the second two acts feels authentic and her chemistry with her best friend helps move the action of the film along. Maika Monroe as Erica is excellent, almost stealing the show with her dialogue and bright personality.
Now to what I think causes the flow of the film to be disrupted. The pacing is fitting for a thriller but the story is straightforward, obvious. There is no real mystery as to the dilemma Frances faces. A slower pace and more suspense would have sold the story a bit more. In addition, the fast pacing eliminates some of the character development, leaving Frances and Greta flat at times. Their interactions together are rich but some of their reactions and behavior isn’t as well built when it comes to other scenes and minor characters.
In addition to the fast pacing and lack of mystery, the story has some missed opportunities for a story that draws on the loneliness of the two characters to develop a stronger story. Greta has mental issues, true but we never find out what has caused them or how she has dealt with them beyond harming others. There is a set up to explore her mental issues but instead, it is build up for the final act where we see how Greta’s cycle of harm works. While there is a great twist at the end, the rest of the story could have done more with Greta’s issues.
Overall, I love the actresses, they are incredible, especially Isabel Hubbert, known most recently for Elle. Chloë Grace Moretz is engaging and held focus. The thriller elements and action build quickly with the twisted elements of Greta’s psychological manipulations intriguing. However, I would have liked to have seen more suspense and better development of the characters, including Greta’s reasons for her mental issues. If you like psychological thrillers with a stalker vibe, you would probably like this film. The acting makes it worthwhile as does the twist at the end.
If you like this kind of film, check out the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAEoJkL_8zU
Official Website: http://focusfeatures.com/greta/
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 handbags