It’s a slow weekend for cinema and while some are rushing out to see the conclusion of Tyler Perry’s “Madea” franchise I chose a different route by seeing a new thriller that has had my interest for quite some time, “Greta”. Taking the stalker story trope and turning it into an obsession of a lonely widow who targets a delicate young woman “Greta” looked like it was going to be an intense, engaging and fun thrill ride. With talents like Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz and Maika Monroe involved it immediately became a must-see in my book. So how well did this thriller live up to my expectations? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “Greta”.
“Greta” takes place in New York City and focuses on a young waitress named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) who comes across a bag on the subway on her way home. Frances decides to return the bag to its rightful owner, a widow named Greta (Isabelle Huppert), and despite warning from her best friend and roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) gets to know Greta and spends time with her. Having lost her mother to cancer Francis comes to see Greta as a mother figure until one night when she discovers that Greta has numerous purses labeled with the phone numbers of different women who have returned them. Frightened by her discovery, Frances decides to cut ties with Greta but finds it harder than expected to walk away as Greta begins stalking Frances including waiting outside her work and apartment. Frances soon finds herself the target of a dangerous obsession and learns that Greta is much more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.
A lot of the driving force behind this film is the women involved in bringing its story to life and, as I said, there’s a lot of talent in front of the camera. Isabelle Huppert is the true standout performance of the picture as the titular Greta, a woman who develops and unhealthy obsession with Chloë Grace Moretz’s Frances and, in the process, gives us one of the first great villains of 2019. Huppert is actually downright terrifying at times in this role despite being a delicate older woman with no real imposing physicality to back up her threats. Instead the intimidation comes from her cunning nature and her relentlessness which makes us, and Frances, feel like she is capable of doing much more than she lets on. Chloë Grace Moretz helps complete the central duo as Frances and while it’s not my favorite performance from Moretz and she starts off a little slow her character eventually grew on me and I began to understand her story a bit more. She’s basically a young woman damaged by the fresh loss of her mother trying to find a way to cope and when Greta comes along she finds a surrogate mother figure to cling to. There’s great chemistry between them on screen, whether it’s as opponents or friends, which helped me as a viewer feel invested in their relationship and how their separation and the ensuing conflict played out.
Really it’s this dynamic between stalker and innocent target that proves to be the backbone of the film storywise. While there’s a lot wrong with “Greta” as a complete product, it does give us an interesting look into the mind and mentality of a stalker as well as the kinds of people that serve as perfect targets and victims for people who are that unstable. Both Huppert and Moretz portray damaged women that are on different ends of the spectrum. Greta’s malevolence is driven by her fear of abandonment which makes her aggressive and obsessive while Frances is damaged by a tragedy she wasn’t prepared to cope with which makes her fragile and easily coerced into a new comfort zone. While “Greta” does miss some great opportunities to delve even deeper into the mental state of both its lead characters what it does prove is that even the most innocent of people can be dangerous especially to those not prepared or able to deal with trauma in their own lives. It tries, and somewhat succeeds, in being a cautionary tale without asking viewers to fear the world in its entirety. I can see where the inspiration came from and I like how “Greta” tries to present itself even taking men mostly out of the equation with only two prominent male characters involved in the narrative. Seeing an older, less imposing woman become such a credible threat to a younger woman, especially when it’s usually an imposing man who plays the antagonist in these stories, not only feels fresh and inspired, it also drives home the film’s themes much more effectively by showing that it doesn’t take brute strength to be a dangerous psychopath.
The problem is this great concept is wrapped in a project filled with clichés, clunky dialogue and an unwillingness to go that extra mile to sell the premise. “Greta” immediately rubbed me the wrong way just from the script alone and while it got a little more bearable as time when on there were many moments where I felt like the movie wasn’t really going anywhere fast and had trouble getting from point A to point B. The performances do bring the screenplay and script to much higher levels than they should be but considering I went in expecting a no-holds-barred, uncomfortable and relentless stalker thriller I had to do a lot of waiting and deal with quite a few overplayed tropes to get to the good parts that explore the conflict more fully. “Greta” eventually ends on a neat climax but the ride to the finish is often slow, bumpy and written with little conviction or dedication to fully realizing its compelling narrative. As a viewer who was intrigued by this movie’s premise from the very beginning, I was underwhelmed. Not completely disappointed mind you, but it’s certainly not what I wanted and it’s nowhere near what it needs to be to do justice to both its intriguing story or the great performances that bring it to life.
So, keeping this review relatively short and sweet, “Great” didn’t thrill me the way I hoped it would. That doesn’t make it unwatchable, it just makes it a missed opportunity in my book. It has some great ideas, especially with the relationship between its two leads who each touch on different versions of emotional damage and how that can impact one’s vulnerability or mental state. It has a pair of awesome actresses who bring those characters to life as well. Unfortunately, the script and writing don’t do them, or the concept, any favors as “Greta” spins its wheels and often feels like it’s stretching its run time. Going in I felt like this film had a lot of potential and leaving the theater I felt like some of that potential was wasted on easy story beats and uneven writing and that the filmmakers wanted to try something interesting but didn’t quite know how to properly handle the material. “Great” does offer some neat concepts and an insightful look at mental health and stalker mentality in its study of two different women caught up in a dangerous relationship so I’d still recommend it. But for me as a moviegoer I just felt it to be average at best when it could have and should have been so much more.