It’s an utter pleasure to see Isabelle Huppert playing a role of a dangerous, demanding and dominant woman. The last time we’ve seen it, we see transformed into the elusive Michele in Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s haunting thriller. In Greta, she transforms into the titular character—the seemingly vulnerable, lonesome woman who conceals her clingy, controlling nature. The character is as haunting and as disturbing as in Elle; only this time, she is the feline in the cat-and-mouse game.
Opposing Huppert’s Greta, Chloe Grace Moretz portrays Frances McCullen, a young waitress. Devastated by her mother’s passing, she moves to New York, live with a roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe), and begrudge his father in Boston who seems to move on from the grief. One day she finds an unattended bag on the train; out of compassion, she returns it to the owner, the titular Greta Hideg. Since the encounter, they bond together—Greta becomes a motherly figure for Frances and Frances becomes a child figure for Greta, who seems to have missed her daughter in France. Everything seems to be a sweet family drama, until it’s not.
Neil Jordan manages to utilize irony, which won him an Oscar and granted him Best Director nomination for The Crying Game, in Ray Wright’s story which he also penned together. Jordan tries to conceal the disturbing surprise sweetly, but he moves on too quickly to translate this movie from a psychological thriller to a straightforward horror. While adept in directing both sub-genre, the decision to abandon the foundation of Greta-Frances’ quirky relationship is more questionable than the later use of jump-scares to escalate the Munchausen cat-and-mouse game. If only Jordan keeps up his surprise and terror a little bit further and focuses more on the dynamics between the two leads, the surprise terror might hit harder; even when Huppert’s breakdown halfway through it is astonishing.
Strange as it may seem, the cat-and-mouse game is actually only the middle act of Greta. The story’s third-act takes a sharp turn into an pulpy B-movie thriller. While Huppert and Moretz’s performance never fails to impress to blend well with the unnerving atmosphere, they movie feels a tad too exploitative, instead of gripping. The screenplay tries to explain what had happened to Greta (with Zawe Ashton’s brief appearance) in words and in pictures, but gives no time for audiences to process it.
Final verdict, Huppert and Moretz deliver unnerving performance even when Greta ends up being a pulpy thriller with a bizarre third act.