Neil Jordan’s Greta is a campy affair best described as Isabelle Huppert does the Big Apple and stalks two hot New York singles after a purse intentionally left on the subway is returned back. And while too reductive, it is not entirely off the mark as this is not the legendary actress’ first rodeo in America. The funny thing about the film was pondering whether it can be interpreted as a send-up of previous roles she’d had and how, for American audiences, her sexuality is muffed entirely. No surprises there—though in all fairness, the story doesn’t call for that type of expression although you could imagine the director slipping in some areola had this been a French production.
While Huppert gets justified first billing, considerable time is spent with Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz), the small town girl new to the city, and less so for a streetwise roommate played by Maika Monroe from It Follows who at times functions as a foil to the green protagonist. Greta and Frances develop a friendship when the lost article is delivered to her doorstep but in all this set-up, who is Greta aside from a Hungarian immigrant and retired nurse? A clever amalgamation of Huppert’s past screen characters? A parody of a few? Fans of Haneke would see The Piano Teacher in Greta’s stone-faced expression. I saw a combination of her character in that film and a more recent role in Elle by Paul Verhoeven.
What Jordan does, I suspect, is tap into—both his and Huppert’s filmography of—past works in a self-aware, self-referential fashion, and here’s why. Other than helming both a personal favorite and a landmark in the vampire genre in Interview with the Vampire, Neil Jordan is a name I am guilty of overlooking. Though superficial, and not indicative of a persistent pattern, both films showcase familiar Old World sensibilities such as the location of exterior shots of the titular Greta’s apartment and her European affinity for piano pieces. The French ethos of joie de vivre, if you will. Those are possibly about the only similarities shared between the two Jordan films. Oh, also Stephen Rea reprising a minor role of a snoopy character. Again, very superficial. Yet combined with how composite of a character Greta feels, I have my suspicions.
Frances, it must be said, lost her mother recently, which makes clingy overtures from Greta (a widow with a daughter away at school) seem too perfect a pretense for the audience to recognize as a plot point at first. In its beginnings, Erica, the roommate, dismisses the unusual friendship as mommy issues, possibly grief-related. But the moment Frances sees Greta’s intentions for what they’re not, she drops her and shakes off the embarrassment of her earlier naiveté. Except Greta won’t go away easily and the bulk of the suspense is derived from her unyielding obsession, going full bonkers.
In the process Jordan manages to provide commentary on the perils of social media harassment despite the main characters having never met online. And then some. Perhaps a lot of kudos must be extended to Jordan for lessons on how not to make a horror in a pulpy thriller, of all genres; by using the very same jump scares to avoid. My favorite scene features a clever montage blurring dream and reality and almost transcends the mood established all over in how it is styled. And with typical tropes and twists of the genre, the film blends more of the horror and stalker cliches and is all the better for it. It is intentional in its tackiness yet fresh and unpredictable. Huppert gets to ham it up, and the results are a delight to behold, while outside of her interpretation of the character the acting mostly keeps a straight face. Almost as if Huppert is slumming it in Hollywood between gigs.