By: Kevin Jordan
Decidedly not for kids.
If it seems like I have only been reviewing kid movies lately, I feel your pain. This time of year has been unusually quiet for me in the movie department, partly due to personal travel and partly due to a dearth of movies being screened in advance or that I am willing to shell out my own money for. I did pay to see Escape Room on one of my trips, but that is a discussion for another time. This week, I broke my PG streak with Greta, a psychological thriller in the same vein as films like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
(SPOILER ALERT, but only if you have not seen a trailer, which gives away nearly the entire movie.)
Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a young, sweet, innocent woman, living in New York with her best friend Erica (Maika Monroe), and waiting tables at a high-end restaurant. In other words, an obvious mark. Erica goes so far as to verbalize this, telling Frances “this city is going to eat you up.” This is how we know her quest to personally return a purse she found on the subway will take a turn for the worse. Let’s back up a step.
While riding the subway home from work, Frances sees a purse sitting in a seat without an owner. She picks it up and takes it to lost and found, only to find the window closed for the night. Because I had seen a preview for the film, my first thought was she was not going to try lost and found first. This was very important to me because it means she is not a complete idiot and this movie is not treating its audience like morons. Once home, Erica rifles through the purse while Frances informs Erica that she will take the purse back to its owner tomorrow. This is where we get the “eat you up” comment from Erica and we agree with her.
The next day, we meet Greta (Isabelle Huppert), the owner of the purse. Upon meeting Greta, Frances is invited in for coffee and we learn that Greta lives by herself, she is widowed, and her adult daughter, Nicola, lives in France. Also, the neighbors upstairs are remodeling and somehow that translates to sounds coming from within the apartment. Or, so says Greta. We are not buying that line, but Frances sure is.
Over an indeterminate amount of time, Frances spends an unhealthy amount of time hanging out with Greta, much to the chagrin of the bar-hopping, club-attending Erica, who wants Frances to hang out with people her own age, mostly her. By this point, we also know that Frances’ mother passed away, so when Erica calls out Frances for adopting Greta as a surrogate mother, we agree with her. Sure, it is a bitingly blunt thing to say to a best friend, but that is what rich socialite friends are for. Erica has a very valid point, especially since Frances is scheduling dinner dates with a random stranger who is literally old enough to be Frances’ mother and is definitely interacting with her the way a mother and daughter would act.
Shortly thereafter, Frances is shocked to reality while at Greta’s house for dinner when she discovers a cabinet full of identical purses, including sticky notes on each purse with the names of other girls and their phone numbers. Frances clumsily excuses herself from Greta’s house and shares her discovery with Erica. Now the stalking and real creepiness begins, escalating in a series of confrontations and culminating in the kidnapping and/or escape scene from every movie like this.
While the film is very predictable and sometimes rote, it does manage to put a fresh spin on some tired cliches and even surprise the audience a couple of times. The part I enjoyed the most is the end of the second act when the film blurs the line between reality and dream/hallucination. Frances realizes someone is in her apartment and is soon rendered unconscious by Greta, who take Frances back to her house. But, Frances wakes from the event to find herself on the couch in her own apartment. This leaves the viewer guessing what actually happened, and we spend about two minutes in real mystery and tension. There is also a good take on the killer-always-comes-back-from-the-dead gag that left me smiling.
Of course, the movie still left plenty of the old cliches intact, including the heroine inexplicably running into the basement while trying to escape, a failure to double-tap a character, and a very clearly bad idea on the part of Erica and Frances to shake the stalker at one point, given what both of them already know about the stalker. Erica’s brilliant plan to shake a very dedicated stalker is for Frances to pretend to leave town. Um, hello? Do you not know what stalkers do? This almost ruined the movie for me because it asks the character and the viewer to ignore nearly all of the development done prior to that scene in order to force the plot forward. What made it egregious was that it was completely unnecessary. Frances could have gone and come back to a waiting stalker, this time Greta accusing Frances of abandoning her (like Nicola). Or, Greta could have preempted the trip, snatching or attacking Frances prior to leaving. Either way, it is a far better way to progress the plot than to have the protagonists act like standard horror movie dolts (it reminded me of that commercial where a bunch of people are trying to escape a killer, asking each other what they should do. One says “why don’t we get in that running car and drive away” and another responds with “are you crazy? Let’s go hide in that barn full of chainsaws and weapons”).
Since horror films just can’t help themselves, I let the cliches slide by with minimal grumbling because Huppert delivers an exquisite performance as Greta. I don’t know if it was intentional, but she has facial twitches and affectations that raise the creepy quotient by a couple of notches. The rest of the cast is forgettable, but Huppert covers for all of them combined. Maybe it is just because of the change of pace in movie genre, but, with the exception of Erica’s lame plan and another scene near the end that is utterly pointless, I enjoyed the film. Then again, after watching this type of movie, I’m ready for another string of kid movies.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back because Erica’s plan was really that dumb.