It all starts with a purse. A beautiful, structured green leather handbag left on a New York subway seat. In these mean streets of “see something, say something,” the only person who might possibly pick it up and return it back to the owner would have to be a fresh-faced rube, of course. Enter Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), who toddles innocently into the glamorous web of Greta (Isabelle Huppert), a chic, lonely French woman who wiles away her day playing piano in her Brooklyn townhome. This simple good Samaritan act turns the key on the music box that is “Greta,” Neil Jordan’s cheeky and deliciously demented take on a paranoid horror thriller.
Veteran filmmaker Jordan shares a writing credit with Ray Wright on the film, who boasts a resume of horror flicks. The B-movie pedigree shows up in this standard stalker script, but what elevates “Greta” beyond schlock is the performances, as well as the insouciant élan Jordan deploys. The film is rich, lush and gorgeously crafted. And it’s obvious he delights in using the classic suspense film toolbox, whether it be noir-ish shots of window blinds slicing light across an ingenue’s face, or outlandish music cues from the brilliant score by Javier Navarrete, which coaxes – nay – demands the audience follow along on this twisted journey. You wonder for a moment if that’s where the film is taking us, and yes, it does go there.
But it’s the women on screen who are the most crucial element to the arch and ironic tone that elicits the kind of reaction somewhere between a laugh and a scream. There is a knowingness to the proceedings, a great big wink, and a sheen of artifice that tips “Greta” decidedly into the territory of camp. However, everyone is fully committed to the exercise, and excellent at that. Moretz is all-in and excellent as the wide-eyed and innocent ingenue Frances, whom you sometimes want to shake for her naivete as she makes all the wrong decisions when it comes to her newly acquired stalker, Greta. Maika Monroe, as her roommate Erica, relishes the role of the sassy, supportive friend who should be wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the title “Greek Chorus.”
But the beating heart and soul of “Greta” is Greta herself, French cinema icon Isabelle Huppert. The film would not be what it is without her, and while that does count as a point against its own sturdiness, “Greta” is way too much fun as a thought experiment about Huppert’s star persona. Casting the famously cool and reserved Huppert as a desperate stalker is simply an inexplicable and hilarious idea. Isabelle Huppert begging for attention? The mind reels.
Isabelle Huppert, staring at her prey day and night from the sidewalk outside the restaurant where she works; Isabelle Huppert, chasing a young woman down a dark alley while texting menacing photos to her roommate; Isabelle Huppert, hysterically flipping a table in a crowded dining room; Isabelle Huppert, doing a happy little murder dance in her stocking feet. With every line delivered with her signature arched eyebrow and sly smile, one wonders who we are to be deserving of such riches. Wherever deranged places “Greta” wants to go, with Huppert as Greta, we will surely follow.
starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Maika Monroe and Stephen Rea. Directed by Neil Jordan. Rated R for some violence and disturbing images. Running time: 1:38