Greta (2019) Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe. A trusting young woman returns a lost handbag to a lonely New York widow, sparking a nightmare of obsession that threatens everyone around her.
When we first meet waitress Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), she’s dealing with the untimely passing of her mother several months before. Following the death, Frances moved in with a college friend in New York City and is still adjusting to life in the bustling metropolis.
On her way home from work at an upscale restaurant, Frances spots a green purse left on a subway seat. Inside is cash, medication and an ID card bearing the name Greta Hideg. After consulting with her more worldly roommate Erica (Maika Monroe of “It Follows”) and hearing the cynical argument for keeping the money and tossing the handbag, Frances tracks down the owner of the items. The search leads her to a cozy home set back from the street, concealed behind a row of buildings.
This hidden place is an appropriate visual metaphor for the secrets buried inside the residence.
Greta (Isabelle Huppert) turns out to be a charmingly eccentric French piano enthusiast and widow living alone in the big bad city. Frances accepts an invitation to coffee, and we learn that Greta’s pianist husband passed away several years ago, and that her estranged daughter lives in Paris. During the conversation, an odd thumping sound intrudes and Greta blames construction next door. Greta’s loneliness and Frances’s desire for a maternal figure meet and a tentative friendship is formed over the course of a week or two.
Frances shows Greta how to use her phone to take photos and helps her adopt a dog. Meanwhile, Erica raises an eyebrow at her roomie’s trusting nature as Frances frolics around town with a complete stranger.
After Greta gets a handle on working her phone, she sends texts. Lots and lots of texts. Privately, she examines social media photos of Frances on past vacations with Erica. While making dinner one night at Greta’s home, Frances discovers a cabinet filled with dozens of identical green purses that were left in public to be found. Each is labeled with the name and address of the poor sap who returned it, and our heroine finds her own name among them. Feeling ill and betrayed, Frances attempts to cut Greta out of her life.
And then, the nightmare begins.
Greta is suddenly an irate customer at the restaurant, a crazed passenger on the subway home, and lurking in apartment hallways to confront Frances. She targets Erica, stalking her through the streets and texting Frances photos as she does. The police get involved, but aren’t able to do much beyond dragging Greta out of the restaurant in one instance. So Frances begins investigating on her own, unraveling the mystery surrounding Greta’s long lost daughter and her dark personal history.
When the trailer for “Greta” first appeared, I was concerned that the film might be too highbrow for my tastes. Isabelle Huppert is a renowned and classy French actress, and director Neil Jordan is known for his arthouse dramas like “The Crying Game.” I needn’t have worried. “Greta” is every bit the juicy, trashy guilty pleasure thriller we crave. This is the kind of thing that could’ve easily turned into a slow burn arthouse character study about madness, but it instead remains firmly rooted in a popular horror subgenre I lovingly call Psycho Fill In The Blank, or Psycho Blank for short. Psycho Cop, Psycho Roommate, Psycho Nurse, etc. Examples date back to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic “Psycho” and 1962’s “Cape Fear” with Robert Mitchum, but the subgenre exploded in the early 1990s. “Misery,” “Single White Female,” “Unlawful Entry,” “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle,” “Basic Instinct,” “Fear” with Mark Wahlberg, etc. Every time you pulled up to the multiplex in the ‘90’s, some new psychopath was terrorizing innocent victims. Barring a few scattered specimens, the subgenre began fading in the 2000’s. But due to offerings like “Greta” and the upcoming Dennis Quaid film “The Intruder,” Psycho Blank is back to slay again!
Psychos can have any occupation or role, but like the slasher subgenre, there are very specific RULES to Psycho Blank films:
1) The antagonist is always a human that possesses no supernatural abilities. During the final battle, however, they may suddenly display shocking durability. Why? Reasons.
2) The body count is typically low. Remember, these aren’t slashers. The emphasis is on psychological horror, terror, mystery, stalking, obsession. Only two victims die during the entire 107 minute runtime of “Single White Female.” And one puppy.
3) In nearly every example of the subgenre, the motivating force behind the mayhem is either vengeance or loneliness. Or both. Whether it be Rebecca DeMornay’s vengeful need to destroy her employer’s family as a wronged widow posing as a nanny in 1992’s “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle,” or Wes Bentley’s lonely security guard abducting an attractive executive and forcing her to have Christmas dinner with him in 2007’s “P2,” these villains desperately need a social circle.
4) Although law enforcement may be involved sporadically or be the antagonist, these are generally not police procedural stories. They revolve around some everyday and mundane civilian lifestyle being disrupted by the machinations of a psychopath.
5) The friends and family of the target of obsession are absolutely screwed, but so are their enemies. Antagonists not only kill off loved ones to isolate the target, they also slaughter folks who’ve been less than kind. So if your best friend’s strange new roommate comes home looking like an exact copy of your best friend, consider leaving town.
6) The psycho in question often has a squeaky clean false identity that hides their birth name and lengthy history of murdering puppies. In the third act, we usually learn that they’ve spent time in a mental institution or prison.
7) Lock up your furry friends. Animals are doomed in Psycho Blank pictures. Whether it be a pet rabbit boiling in a pot on the stove or a puppy thrown off an 8th-floor balcony into the street, this is a subgenre where pets do poorly.
Isabelle Huppert chews the scenery as the seemingly harmless title villain, with her array of syringes filled with sedatives and her velvet gloves. She plays well off of Chloe Moretz’s earnest and well-meaning heroine, and Maika Monroe brings us a charismatic twist on the typical best friend archetype. Erica does not conform to the Psycho Blank rule book when it comes to doomed allies. In terms of gore, there’s a scene in which a character gruesomely loses a finger and the wound is shown in extreme detail.
“Greta” is definitely not a bloody flick, but will satisfy scary movie fans looking for a psychological horror fix.
Not only is the film wickedly funny in a dark way, but it’s also ironic. Frances is compassionate, loyal, optimistic and selfless. She is literally the perfect friend, which is what the psychotic Greta claims to be seeking and ultimately loses with her insane behavior.