It’s a thin line between glorious camp and total trainwreck, and Neil Jordan’s Greta may be the new gold standard for the former. A storyline that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lifetime original is elevated by the clear delight of Jordan, his crew, and the top-shelf cast bringing their collective pedigree together to revel in the trash. When a performer of Isabelle Huppert’s caliber wears sunglasses to a restaurant and flips over the table in a spectacular way, or blithely ballet-dances away from a horrific act, you know you are in the presence of magnificence. Imagine Fatal Attraction by way of Mommie Dearest, where everyone is giving it their all, but also in on the joke.
Chloë Grace Moretz plays Frances, a young woman from Boston living in her wealthy friend Erica’s (Maika Monroe) apartment in New York. One day she finds a bag left behind on the subway, and returns it to the owner, the titular Greta (Huppert). Greta is, by all appearances, a lonely old woman whose isolation from her family has left her a bit quirky and desperate for company. The recent death of Frances’ mother and subsequent strained relationship with her father leaves her vulnerable, and she overlooks Greta’s strange mannerisms and even a few red flags. Soon, Frances discovers the shocking (to her, not to the audience) truth about her peculiar friend, at which point the full spectrum of Greta’s craziness comes out: stalking, appearing at her house and workplace, following Frances’ friends, all while insisting she is the mother Frances needs.
As in the best thrillers, Jordan plays Greta’s narrative hand early because the fun of this movie is not specifically what happens next, it’s how far things will go. Once the truth about Greta’s modus operandi is revealed, we’re not subjected to lengthy explanations about her previous victims, or convinced that she’s a criminal mastermind. As a disturbed person, she’s created a gambit that skirts the law and exploits societal sympathies, but as an irrational person, she has not thought through an endgame. We discover, along with Frances, her roommate, and her father, just how drastic their countermeasures need to be to combat this level of crazy.
Jordan understands the difference between fun suspense and upsetting horror. Both have their place in film, but there’s a cheapness in the lowest common denominator shockfests that pass themselves off as schlocky fun. One thing that elevates camp from crap is when clearly silly or messy ideas are executed with artistic flair and a careful balance of irony and sincerity. For example, there are several moments of explicit violence, but the camera never dwells on the gore because the more exciting parts are the moments before and after.
Everyone in this film appears to be clear on what this movie is and what part they play in the audience’s mind. Huppert steals the show, but a cat-and-mouse game needs a mouse, and that role is terrifically embodied by Moretz as susceptible but not helpless, and capable of some extreme measures of her own. Perfectly paced and definitely rewatchable, Greta may be the best treat of 2019 so far.