For me, the most captivating part of Greta was easily the trailer for Us that the theatre played before it. Anyone who doesn’t have the luxury of being eased into Greta with a reminder of what a good thriller can look like is left with an hour and a half of wasted potential built on plot holes and tired tropes.
Greta is as simple a story as they come — Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a young woman finding her way in New York City until, one day, she stumbles across a lost bag on the subway. Its owner is Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), a lonely old woman so desperate for a friend that she’s willing to turn to extreme measures to keep Frances close.
But, in the end, that’s really it.
If you’ve seen the trailer or read a plot summary, you’ve just about seen Greta. It’s a stalking victim being stalked, with an extra hour-or-so of padding in the form of frustrating and unnecessary fake-out dream sequences or moments where a conclusion seems to be drawn and then the film forces itself to trudge onward.
As a whole, Greta doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Moretz overacts, envisioning herself in a serious, aching drama; Huppert takes what little she is given to work and aims for something lighter, playing up the camp laced through the screenplay. All of this is tied together with multiple instances of awkward, out of place jokes or aggressive spikes of sound unintentionally informing the audience of jumpscares before they happen. None of it works, save for perhaps Huppert’s performance, which is still a waste when trapped in this narrative.
The plot ramps up audaciously fast — a surprise considering the amount of filler Greta has. With all the excess removed, there could have been more time for the development of both Frances and Greta as people, allowing the audience to grow invested in the characters’ friendship before it all goes to shambles. Instead, we’re left with two one note characters seen hundreds of times boiled down to two titles: the helpless victim and the volatile monster, both devoid of any depth beyond these labels.
The character of Greta shuffles back and forth between a believable distant charm and cartoon villain territory. This is by no fault of Huppert, who switches between the roles with ease, transforming an embarrassingly campy sequence in which Greta twirls and dances around as a method of avoiding gunshots into something genuinely creepy.
Most other aspects of the villain intended by the writers, however, are far less sinister. When you finally get glimpses into her intent behind holding Frances hostage in her home, you’re left wishing for a hundredth droning, unnecessary scene of Frances’ father leaving her a voicemail she won’t receive to alleviate the boredom.
Characters only seem to move where the narrative wants to take them, their own motivations and weak attempts at personalities lost to supporting a story. Yet, not even this can save the nonsensical outcomes of the story.
Greta only feels worth watching when it embraces its own ridiculousness, as long as it’s viewed as disconnected from the attempts of sincerity throughout the film. The thought of Huppert throwing down a table in a classy restaurant is a treat — of course, in the context of the story, no other patrons react to her outburst, let alone Frances’ boss, who informed her moments before to avoid creating “a scene”.
In the bigger picture of psychological thrillers featuring unhinged stalkers, though, moments like these are ultimately unmemorable. The film lacks the confidence required by filmmakers to push it completely in one direction — the plethora of ideas in Greta held promise but none are ever fully committed to.
Greta is a film we’ve all seen a thousand times before. It’s a film where, given the general gist, anyone could paint-by-numbers the rest of the plot themselves. There’s no room for holding back in today’s horror landscape, built on self-assured filmmaking that never shies away from going all out. Greta, on the other hand, had quite a few places it could go, yet refuses to leave its comfort zone.