Stalkers are a dime a dozen, but Greta (Isabelle Huppert) is one in a million: graceful as a dove, lonely as a leopard and deadly as a rattlesnake. Equal parts mesmerizing and terrifying.
And as she torments Frances (frequently unfortunate ingénue Chloë Grace Moretz), her radiantly elegant malice heats up until it boils. Huppert has created one of the all-time great cinematic creeps who crawls under your skin and has you walking home in hyper-alert mode. It’s a shame that the movie she’s in completely sucks.
The European vixen is failed by an abysmal script by writer/director Neil Jordan of Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles fame. Crafting what I can only assume is a summation of the first of his 69 years on planet Earth, Jordan gives us characters who don’t have any natural human instinct among them. This is particularly true of Frances, whose life becomes intertwined with her tormentor’s after she retrieves a lonely (and expensive-looking) bag on the subway. It’s one thing to have a cup of tea with an older lady you’ve never met, it’s another to give her your block-button free cellphone and landline number after hearing loud banging that is clearly coming from inside her apartment. Francis proceeds to make one stupid mistake after another, things that any person in her age group has been conditioned to avoid. Meanwhile, Jordan is too busy reminding us that she’s in desperate need of a maternal figure somewhere between 600-700 times to justify these actions.
Like Greta herself, he’s not big on subtlety.
The cast of slumming character actors bruise themselves as they try to hang onto Jordan’s words. Moretz can play horrified and exasperated in her sleep, and her cogent performance anchors the deeply foolish Francis in some semblance of reality. She can sell trying to make a daring escape through… a basement, proving that she will, in fact, win an Oscar one day. Huppert is fantastic, but struggles with the wildly uneven tone, initially going for realistic and tragic and eventually sliding into deep camp. Meanwhile, Maika Monroe, no stranger to being followed herself, has enough raw screen presence to make her character Erica, the resident of a multi-million dollar, straight-out-of-Friends New York loft (a graduation gift… obviously), likable.
Erica is the only character who even remotely behaves like a human, and I can’t help but wonder how this movie would fare if she was the protagonist. The best moments come when Jordan pits Frances against Huppert, yet the stakes never quite escalate to where they need to for things to be exciting. There are certainly a few elaborate, and wild, set-pieces, but the character’s actions taken in them are so beyond silly that it’s difficult to absorbed the intended level of catharsis.
Jordan is terrified his audience won’t know which moments are supposed to be scary if they’re not loud enough to wake Jesus Christ himself. His direction is so overwrought it almost comes off as intentionally bad. His pacing is way off, a violent stomp on the gas pedal right from the start. A film like this should take its time to build tension and make the audience cringe hard enough to melt into putty until the climax. Since there’s almost no culturing of that discomfort, the experience is an alienating one.
The performances in Greta do a lot to carry the weight and the sheer nuttiness of it all do make for some mindless, schadenfreude-fueled fun. However, it’s also not quite loony enough to join the club disaster-pieces that recently found a new grandmaster in Serenity. This is such a tragic waste of Huppert and Moretz, who both deserve a better vehicle. Perhaps the best person to bring this unique female driven take on the stalker subgenre was not a man. If this is successful enough to lead to 2 Fast 2 Greta, I hope a woman gets to jump in and give this beautiful psycho a film worthy of her presence.
Until then, she’ll have to settle. Go figure.