When it comes to their latest film Greta, it's understandable that fans of Isabelle Huppert, Chlöe Grace Moretz, or even director Neil Jordan might be a little confused. With a trailer that makes the Mar. 1 release look like a multigenerational Single White Female and a cast who move easily between straight horror and sweet romance, sure, it's billed as a thriller. But just how scary is Greta? While gorehounds will have moments to cheer (heads up to the utterly squeamish), Greta will absolutely delight those thrilled by stalker films and fans of Lifetime movie-level campiness. Major spoilers ahead!
Moretz plays Frances, a recent New York transplant still reeling from her mother's death. She lives with jaded, wealthy roommate Erica (It Follows' Maika Monroe, adding emotional heft that deepens the girls' friendship), is estranged from her father, and spends her days shuttling between work and home, disinterested in Erica's attempts to draw her out and socialize. All that changes when Frances finds a lovely purse on the subway and, against Erica's advice, returns it. Its owner turns out to be Greta, a French widow living in a fairy-tale cottage amid the city's looming skyscrapers with nothing but the memories of lost loved ones.
Greta and Frances immediately bond, filling the lonely void in each others' lives as they shop, cook, and even get a dog together. Erica warns that they're getting too close and it's obvious Frances is trying to replace her mother, but Frances icily brushes off her concern. Anyone familiar with the stalker genre knows this honeymoon period's just the set-up before the mask of normalcy slips. Sure enough, when asked to fetch candles for dinner at Greta's, Frances makes a horrifying discovery: an entire cabinet of identical purses just like the one she returned, each with a neatly labeled Post-It with a different name and phone number.
The film's major frights come mostly from tension, and this scene's just one example of Greta's genius for milking it for all its worth. Frances' awkward attempt to leave and Greta's wide-eyed innocence will have moments as seemingly innocuous as pointing out keys in a bowl biting your nails. But Jordan's not content to just tease out the edginess that comes from the fear of spotting a stalker amid anonymous thousands at any moment, in any place — something Frances faces once she cuts (or tries to cut) Greta out of her life. No, the filmmaker goes the extra mile by setting up scene after scene so audacious, that you can't believe the film's about to go there... even as it clearly telegraphs it's totally gonna.
Part of the film's fun comes from how absolutely committed everyone is; Moretz and Monroe's intense sincerity gives Huppert room to cut completely loose, like when Greta confronts Frances at work, flipping tables and declaring Frances' mom had to die so they could be together.
The finest one-two-three punch of this comes from the film's goriest (and surprisingly funniest) scene. Trapped in Greta's house and forced to bake cookies (the film's fairy tale hints add a whole other layer of creepiness to the usual stalker tropes), a drugged, woozy Frances zones out and rolls dough as Greta natters on, correcting Frances' pronunciation and using a cookie cutter to slice shapes. As soon as you (and Frances) notice that sharp metal kitchen implement, there's a beat giving you room to wonder if this is actually going to happen. Then YEP, Greta's suddenly short a finger and all hell breaks loose.
The sight of Isabelle Huppert shrieking and spurting blood, followed by a graphic needle poke into a raw wound, is more gore than you might anticipate given the film's quieter ramp-up. Greta has several similar moments that are bracketed by tension, brief and brutal in their violence, and leavened by humor at the sheer ridiculousness of the total scene. Like later, when Greta gets in a point-blank headshot and twirls away dancing, clearly having the time of her life.
If you can stomach violence and mild gore on par with a particularly zesty episode of ER, you'll be OK with Greta. Anyway, ER doesn't offer the deep satisfaction of a film with enough chutzpah to claim Huppert's actual accent is fake, among other giddy delights. There's never a pure jump scare, but some of the film's twists might startle, and you'll definitely gasp — then again, that's the fun of this loving, lady-centric take on the stalker genre film.