'Greta' Review: Isabelle Huppert Goes Nuts In Neil Jordan's Wacky Thriller

Everybody needs a friend. And who wouldn't want to be friends with Isabelle Huppert? It's a set-up too good to ignore, and director Neil Jordan milks it for all that it's worth in his gonzo thriller Greta. What could've very easily been a serious, scary movie is, Jordan's hands, a weird, goofy freakshow, in which Huppert hams it up as the loneliest, craziest woman in New York. She's looking for a friend. And a surrogate daughter. And, quite possibly, a victim. She's out of her freakin' mind, and part of the fun of this movie is watching Huppert ham it up to the extreme. Late in the film, Jordan goes so far as to have Huppert dance around a dead body while humming to herself. Yes, it's that ridiculous. But that's not a bad thing.

Poor, sweet, naive Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) is new in town. She's living with her much more experienced, and much more sarcastic roommate Erica (It Follows star Maika Monroe), while also grieving the loss of her mother, to whom she was very close. Outside of Erica, Frances doesn't have many friends, and as fate – or bad luck – would have it, she's about to find both a new friend and a new mother figure. But first, she finds a purse on the subway. And rather than steal the money from inside like any self-respecting New Yorker, Frances tracks down the owner to return it.

The owner is Greta Hideg (Huppert), a former piano teacher living in cozy apartment that appears to be located inside a huge abandoned warehouse. Greta comes across as warm and friendly, and yes, lonely – just as lonely as Frances. Frances begins a friendship with Greta that absolutely perplexes Erica. "She's an old lady!" Erica yells, incredulous. But that doesn't matter to Frances. She needs Greta, and Greta needs her. In fact, Greta needs her a little too much. Just as the friendship has reached its peak, Frances makes a discovery that immediately concerns her, and makes her realize that Great hasn't been completely honest.

From here, Great turns into a kind of Mommy Dearest meets Fatal Attraction riff, with Huppert's Greta growing more and more unhinged, and making Frances' life a living hell. She shows up at Frances' apartment unexpected. She creepily stands outside the restaurant Frances works at for hours looking in. She enters the same restaurant and causes a wild scene flipping over tables and literally chasing Frances around.

Frances is understandably concerned, and things grow increasingly dire when Greta enacts a diabolical (and wildly implausible) plan. Implausibility is often the name of the game here. One gets the sense that Greta exists in some sort of alternate reality divorced from our own, if only because of the elaborate scenarios Greta is able to set-up on her own with ease.

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Moretz is sympathetic and believable as the often clueless Frances, who is drawn deeper and deeper into Greta's web before she realizes it's too late. It's easy to believe her loneliness, as it's easy to understand why she's so drawn to Greta in the first place. But ultimately, this is Huppert's film, and Greta doesn't fully come alive until Jordan disposes with the niceties and gets down to the nastiness. We know before the movie even starts that Greta herself will be bad news, so as the first half-hour unfolds, we're all just waiting for Huppert to cut loose. When it happens, it doesn't disappoint. But the set-up does drag, to the point where it feels as if Jordan is delaying the inevitable.

Eventually, Greta runs out of things to say, and paints itself into a bit of a corner by restricting most of the action to one location. Jordan and co-writer Ray Wright try to inject some life into things by introducing a private detective played by frequent Jordan collaborator Stephen Rea, but the character is woefully undercooked to the point where he might as well not be in the movie at all.

Jordan is responsible for several sophisticated, dreamy genre films – Interview With the VampireByzantiumThe Company of Wolves and more. Those aforementioned movies are overflowing with a cultured refinery that evokes the feel of an expensive meal served on silver platters against the glow of flickering candlelight. Greta is the anthesis of that. It's fatty but delicious fast food, presented to you on a plastic tray lit by humming, flickering florescent bulbs. Like I would with a fine meal, I prefer Jordan's classier thrillers, but that doesn't mean I don't have a craving now and then for junk. Greta won't be remembered as one of Jordan's best, but it's hard to resist any film that features Isabelle Huppert going off the deep end.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10