A naïve young girl named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) finds a lost handbag on the subway, and against her roommates warnings takes it to the address found on a driver’s licence in the bag. The bag belongs to a lonely widow named Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), and the two strike up an unlikely friendship, bonded by their shared loses, and their craving for a mother/daughter relationship. However Greta quickly becomes obsessive and controlling, and Frances begins to suspect that Greta isn’t the sweet innocent lady that she pretends to be.
The majority of the film plays out like a creepy stalker thriller, which it does well. The tension is kept high as Chloë Grace Moretz plays the disconcerted Frances expressively and convincingly. Frances is startled by Greta’s appearances, her wide frightened eyes constantly looking over her shoulder for the stalker. When she begins to target Frances’ roommate too, we really begin to understand just how committed Greta is to her cause. She pops up everywhere and anywhere, and will just stand and stare at Frances ‘Michael Myers-like’ in a unnerving yet slightly comedic manner.
This comedic tone follows through into the third act of the film, where the tone shifts into this tongue-in-cheek silly kidnap horror, which as absurd as it sounds, I kind of loved. Greta pulls out all the stops, drugging Frances and locking her in a toybox in a secret room behind the piano. She aggressively mothers the girl, teaching how to speak French and play the piano. The terrified and malnourished Frances playing along, as she is too weak at this point to fight back. The backing music is used for dramatic effect, swelling when Frances musters every last ounce of her energy to fight back, in a clever but repulsive move that really takes you by surprise. The detail of the injury is graphic, but the manner in which it was achieved so ridiculous it’s darkly humorous – much like when Greta disposes of a body by nonchalantly flinging it down into the basement, the camera lingering as the body bag jutters over each step.
The scary thing about Greta is that you believe she will take whatever means necessary to reach her goal. Nothing is out the realm of possibility for this extremely lonely and disturbed woman, once she has attached to someone, you cannot shake her off. Isabelle Huppert played this character with such intensity and psychotic energy. Greta takes advantage of her ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ exterior to deceive people, and Huppert fully immerses herself into the role, transforming into the calculated and conniving woman.
The story is set in minimal locations: Frances’ flat, her place of work, the subway, and Greta’s house. This is a clever way of showing us the few spaces that Frances operates in, and how Greta closes in on all of them, reflecting Frances feelings of entrapment and isolation despite living in the sprawling metropolis of New York City. There is also few characters, which again isolates Frances, but also allows the film time to develop the character of her roommate Erica, who turns out to be a fiercely brave and loyal friend, keeping Frances grounded with her sarcasm and ‘street-smart’ advice that Frances will never ignore again!
As unusual as the tone and premise of Greta is, it works as an engaging ‘campy’ horror that you must see to understand the appeal. I doubt that this could have been pulled off without the talents of Chloë Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert, who bring with them an air of quality and sophistication, that keeps the film from being too trashy. Greta is an entertaining horror that manages to build tension and be genuinely unnerving, without taking itself too seriously.