There is something distinctly frightening about watching the sweetest, most naive people fall for dirty tricks. Neil Jordan’s newest flick, “Greta,” plays impeccably on this fear. However, Jordan executes the promising storyline poorly, ramping up tension only to disappoint, and leaving holes and gaps throughout. The film’s poor pacing and borderline absurd action sequences make it more of a collection of bizarre antics set to French music than an exciting psychological thriller.
“Greta” starts off promisingly. Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a 20-something girl from Boston, lives in New York City with the well-meaning but sometimes insensitive Erica Penn (Maika Monroe). Still reeling from her mother’s death the previous year, Frances throws herself into her job at a restaurant and spends the rest of her time grieving in solitude. Enter Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), a kind, charming French woman who loves classical music and playing piano. When Greta loses her bag on the subway, Frances returns it to her and a new friendship begins. Recently widowed, Greta doesn’t speak to her daughter; meanwhile, Frances misses her mother. Unfortunately, Frances does not realize the depth of Greta’s loneliness, nor the lengths she will go in order to keep Frances in her life.
In theory, “Greta” should be a hit. It has all the elements of an exciting and suspenseful horror film: exceptional characters, a strong storyline and a lingering, thinly-veiled cloud of uncertainty and fear. Moretz is convincing as the innocent Bostonian-turned-New Yorker constantly trying to do the right thing. Huppert scares as Greta, a woman whose overly sweet disposition and saccharine smile make you suspect a much darker personality. The film’s tension is palpable: Frances’ unabashed fear is anxiety-inducing and the ever-present French music offers a horrifying contrast between the perfect world Greta wants to live in and the awful one she forces Frances to endure.
Even so, the pieces of “Greta” that could make the film successful are not enough to account for the poor pacing and glaring plot holes. The film’s first half builds the tension between Frances and Greta. It establishes Greta as a villainous character, yet takes so long to do so that one begins to wonder when (or if) anything terrible will actually happen to Frances. This buildup makes the second half of the movie feel rushed and unrealistic, as if the director was trying to push the boundaries of what atrocities Greta could do to Frances in 90 minutes. He failed miserably. The ending was so hurried that characters’ actions were nearly laughable, greatly detracting from the thriller the “Greta”’s beginning promised. The audience knows early on that Greta is not just a nice, lonely woman. Why waste so much time building the storyline just to have it crumble so messily at the end?
“Greta”’s buildup of tension leads to loose ends, ranging from the truth behind Greta’s relationship with her daughter to Greta’s strange obsession with French culture. The film provides little background for her: we don’t know the impetus behind Greta’s obsession with France, nor do we learn about Greta’s strange relationship with her daughter, leading viewers to a rather unfulfilling ending.
In spite of “Greta”’s inconsistencies, I would be remiss not to mention Frances’ and Erica’s intelligence throughout the film. Unlike the typical damsel in distress trope, Frances is on her toes and intelligent throughout the film. She tells Greta off, calls the police and takes measures to protect herself and her friend, though these measures inevitably fail. Erica, meanwhile, is not just a comedic sidekick, but is also a hero — dauntless, bold and quick-witted. Her quips are hilarious, and her unswerving loyalty an inspiration. You rarely see such a true, powerful friendship portrayed in horror films; if for nothing else, watch “Greta” for this friendship.
While the film’s awkward pacing and plot holes are difficult hurdles to jump, “Greta” may still be worth the watch. Huppert, Monroe and Moretz all come to life as their characters, and the friendship between Frances and Erica is admirable. These elements alone save “Greta” from becoming nothing more than a lengthy episode of “Criminal Minds,” and are reason enough to give the film a try.