by Hope Madden
Greta is a mess, and I don’t just mean the character.
In fact, I’m not sure the character is a mess at all, no matter how she hopes to fool you. Played by the inimitable Isabelle Huppert, the titular friend in need is, in fact, a crackpot. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and poor, wholesome Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) doesn’t seem up to the reckoning.
A Midwestern transplant still grieving the loss of her mother, Frances lives in an irredeemably perfect New York apartment with her debutante bestie (Maika Monroe), but she feels a little untethered in the big city without her mom to call.
Enter Greta, the lonely older woman whose handbag Frances finds on the subway train and returns.
Director Neil Jordan hasn’t shot a feature since his underappreciated 2012 vampire fantasy, Byzantium. Here he shares writing duties with Ray Wright, who’s made a career of outright reboots and overt reworkings.
Like maybe Fatal Attraction with mommy issues.
There are elements to appreciate about Greta. Huppert is superb, her performance becoming more unhinged and eventually comical in that Nic Cage sort of way. Her time onscreen is creepy fun.
Moretz’s fresh-faced grief convinces for a while, and Monroe excels in an absolutely thankless role.
So what’s the problem? Well, number one, are we really afraid of this tiny, frail old lady?
No. We are not. Jesus, push her down already. I get it, you’re polite, but come on. I’m Midwestern and I’d have knocked her under a NYC taxi by now.
The terror is so unreasonable and yet so earnestly conveyed that scenes meant to be tense are comedic, and once you start laughing it’s hard to stop.
In fact, the sound of your own guffaws might distract you from the film’s truly breathtaking leaps of logic. It often feels as if whole reels were chunked out of this film and replaced with unconnected scenes from a private detective TV drama—one in which Stephen Rea’s dialog is inexplicably and unconvincingly dubbed.
What on earth?!
Well, par for the course with this film. It opens strong, develops well and relies on Huppert’s supernatural presence to create palpable tension before going entirely off the rails.