It would be an understatement to call the combination of an Oscar-winning director like Neil Jordan and French icon Isabelle Huppert, who has brought her talent to over 120 films, simply promising. Jordan’s latest project, the thriller “Greta,” had all the makings of a smash hit and could have been a new contribution to the Renaissance of the horror genre of recent years — just look at the compelling stories, committed performances, and high production value of films like “A Quiet Place,” “Hereditary,” and “Get Out.” Yet, somehow, the mixture of these exciting elements turned incredibly sour, resulting in a noxious two hours of tropes, forced tension, and pathetic attempts at plot twists. If anything, “Greta” should be a learning experience for any one interested in the movie industry; a screenplay can make or break the film, and in this case, it turns something with extreme potential into a borderline-comedic dumpster fire.
From the trailer to the movie poster to the very brief IMDb summary, the makers of “Greta” are very transparent about the fact that Greta (Isabelle Huppert) is an evil, possessive stalker who lures the young Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) into her trap. This disturbed, middle aged woman leaves fancy handbags on the subways of New York, hoping someone naive enough will return the bag to her cozy apartment and become her friend. Having recently lost her mother, Frances is desperate for someone to fill that maternal void and, therefore, connects with the friendly Greta immediately. However, she quickly discovers Greta’s dark side and spends the rest of the movie trying to throw this creepy woman off her scent.
By wasting the opportunity of a big, unexpected reveal of Greta’s bad intentions, screenwriter Ray Wright shoots this film in the foot. Instead of building tension gradually and slowly hinting that something about this new-formed friendship is off, Wright gets stuck trying to fill about an hour of runtime with forced drama, a ridiculous amount of stalking, and a dragged out finale. The cacophony of loud, abrupt violins isn’t enough to bring the suspense back to life, and the film’s reliance on tired-out tropes like spooky basements, clumsy protagonists who suddenly lose every ounce of coordination, and an unbelievably careless and incompetent police force proceed to dig this film’s grave.
Maybe the most outrageous moment of the film comes in the form of a dream within a dream sequence that seems too farcical to be serious. Greta’s terrorization of Frances reaches a climax when she drugs Frances’ coffee, drags the incapacitated girl back to her cottage, and locks her up in a hidden room for good. Things are looking very bleak for the victim, when suddenly, Frances wakes up safe in her apartment with her coffee sitting safely on her end table, realizing that the kidnapping was all part of scary nightmare. It’s boggling that a filmmaker could use the “It was all just a dream” cliché unironically, especially because of how cringey the plot has been up to this point. Oh, but wait! There’s more! As Frances takes the elevator down to meet up with her father, the elevator starts to shake and shrink like a claustrophobic person’s biggest fear. She suddenly wakes up for the second time, now back in Greta’s creepy, secret room — indicating the abduction actually did happen. Such a risky and ultimately ridiculous plot point seems like it would belong much better in a spoof like the “Scary Movie” series. The most exhilarating moment of the film was probably the finale, mainly due to the sudden joy one feels at the thought of the film ending, before feeling dread upon realizing it will actually drag on longer than expected.
It feels strange to critically analyze and to give detailed attention to such an obviously bad film, but the portrayal of Greta as a stereotypical “psychopath” is too out-of-touch to ignore. She is clearly a very sick woman, traumatized by a tragic past, yet no one makes any attempt to bring her to therapy, get her diagnosed by a psychologist, or even — worst case scenario — institutionalize her. Considering the steps mental health advocates have recently made to increase awareness of mental illnesses and try to eliminate the social stigma around them, this one-dimensional “crazy lady” who is treated like an irredeemable villain feels like a step in the wrong direction.
Unlike a beautiful disaster like “Sharknado,” “Greta” likely won’t become an immortalized cult classic; it doesn’t relish in its campiness enough. Nevertheless, to anyone who decides to buy a ticket to this flick, make sure to drag a friend to the theatre and “Greta” might actually make for a cringey but funny time.
—Staff writer Samantha J. O’Connell can be reached at sam.o’firstname.lastname@example.org