'Greta' Review: Strong Performances and Cinematography Elevates This Stalker Thriller Above Its Peers

Thrillers have regularly depicted what happens when a stranger gets too close to a victim, subsequently infiltrating their lives in horrifying ways, with the all-too-real regular occurrences of such real-life events making for a timeless formula. Greta will surely feel familiar to genre veterans, yet an unhinged performance from Isabelle Huppert and director Neil Jordan's sympathetic cinematography make it stand out from its peers, even if it isn't a full-blown success.

Young waitress Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) has recently moved to New York City, bringing her small-town manners with her. After seeing an older woman, Greta (Huppert), leave her purse behind on the subway, Frances returns the bag to its owner, striking up a friendship with the woman. This relationship results in Frances discovering Greta has multiple purses and aliases, seemingly used to lure in other victims, and the waitress confronts her new "friend" about her schemes, making her wish she had never retrieved the bag in the first place.

As far as the narrative is concerned, it offers audiences little surprises. The biggest difference from its peers is that the film's main characters are all female, with only sporadic appearances from male characters. We've seen stories like this unfold from male vs. female dichotomy, with Greta's story fundamentally altered from the early on. Not only are we given multiple complex female characters, but the relationship between Frances and Greta stems from Frances' longing for a mother figure, with her mom having passed a year prior to the events of the film. Stalking thrillers regularly explore what happens when a romantic relationship is cut short, with Greta giving only passing mentions at any of the characters having any romantic interests.

Huppert completely owns Greta in all of her madness, from the quiet moments of affection to scenes where she is flipping over restaurant tables in pursuit of Frances. The actress' mild manner and unassuming stature allow Greta to display both a quiet madness and fierce attacks, which all stem from a vulnerable and empathetic place. This isn't to say the film paints Greta as a character who is valid in her pursuits, more that the viewer can comprehend that the events that take place prior to the film if, gone unchecked, could lead to drastic measures to find someone to add meaning to her life. Much like a shark taking inquisitive bites of its potential prey before unleashing its power on a meal, Greta pokes and prods Frances to get a good read on her weaknesses, ultimately allowing her to strike.

Moretz's performance, on the other hand, feels as though it's not fully realized. Frances mopes through most of her time on screen, and while we can be empathetic to the loss of her mother, her devotion to that loss almost makes it feel as though she brought the plight of Greta on herself. This isn't to say she didn't actively make choices to cleave herself from her stalker, more that the universe delivered Greta into her life as punishment for that commitment to being morose. Especially compared to her bubbly and endearing roommate Erica (performed wonderfully by Maika Monroe), Frances' outlook on life seemed like she was just asking for another tragedy to fall upon her.

In ways both good and bad, the film moves at a brisk pace, allowing the stakes of the stalking to organically heighten without ever feeling unreasonable. The drawback to this is that audiences have a harder time connecting with Frances, potentially preventing us from connecting with her or understand why she was so eager to embrace Greta as a surrogate mother figure.

The film is undeniably a genre film, yet Jordan shows restraint with his cinematography, always feeling like there could be a happy ending or an explainable misunderstanding right around the corner. Rather than an abrasive aesthetic, the film has a much softer focus, misleading the viewer into thinking Greta could be justified in her approaches. Greta does take some dark turns throughout the narrative, with the vulnerable cinematography making the more intense moments feel all the more jarring.

Greta is a must-see for all Huppert fans, giving her the opportunity to put her immense talent on display, and fans of stalker thrillers will appreciate unconventional approaches to well-worn genre territory, yet there is too much predictability and undercooked characters won't leave all audiences satisfied.


Rating: 3 out of 5

Greta lands in theaters on March 1st.