If the movies have taught us anything, it's that selflessness can get you killed. Altruism is the murderous psychopath's bread and butter, and that's certainly the case with Greta (Isabelle Huppert), who likes to leave behind fancy handbags on the New York City subways and wait for a vulnerable young woman to find them and return them to their rightful owner.
And once the women become ingratiated toward Greta... well, let's just say they won't like what's hidden behind her piano.
Greta has all the trappings of a film that was written years ago, from the sheer analog nature of its title character's ruse to the inexplicable landline phone in its millennial heroine's spacious loft apartment. I could be wrong, but it wouldn't surprise me if the dust was blown off a screenplay from 1993 and retrofitted to include Facebook and text messaging. Anyone who's seen a handful of those Hand That Rocks the Cradle-era killer-next-door movies has been through all this before.
But you know who clearly hasn't seen any of those movies? Greta's latest obsession, a doe-eyed big-city transplant named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), who brings back one of Greta's many "lost" purses and accepts the offer to come inside and have a cup of tea. Frances finds that Greta's amiable French charm fills the void left by her mother's recent death, while Frances becomes a surrogate for Greta's own faraway daughter.
Their casual friendship deepens, and soon they're having regular dinners and taking walks through the park, much to the bafflement of Frances' sassy roommate Erica (Maika Monroe), who fluently speaks the kind of faux-hip dialogue that could only have been written by a middle-aged man.
Erica is right to be suspicious, of course, and once Frances starts to get the hint that Greta has some kind of ulterior motive, she stops returning her phone calls. But Greta won't be ignored: She stalks Frances, she stalks Erica, she stands outside buildings for what seems like hours, and later walks into the fancy restaurant where Frances works, demands a Chablis right this instant and starts overturning tables. And it gets more violent from there.
In standard thriller fashion, the flies in Greta's web are almost contractually obligated to make one stupid decision after another. Tell me this: If a psychotic Isabelle Huppert was following you all over the city, would you enter your apartment without turning the lights on, and leave the door wide open? And not only is Greta a Machiavellian madwoman, but she's seemingly blessed with omnipotence and superhuman strength, which allows her to be in all the right places at the most convenient times.
That's part of the fun, I guess, and Huppert is definitely in on the joke. She wields syringes with an almost sensual ecstasy, dances daintily around her living room before casually shooting someone in the head, and cleans up a giant pool of blood with all the exasperation of someone who's just spilled a little cocktail sauce on the linoleum. She could play this part in a catatonic state — this isn't even the first time she's been cast as a perverse piano teacher — but she really digs into it with demented glee.
Greta was directed and co-written by Neil Jordan, who has made as many classy, twisty, thought-provoking thrillers (The Crying Game, Mona Lisa) as he has B-movies with artsy veneers (In Dreams, The Brave One), and this one is more in the latter camp (pun very much intended). It's a pretty goofy film, and if you think about its internal logic for more than, oh, a nanosecond, it falls apart completely. But it's not exactly unenjoyable, and it sometimes works in a trashy, airport-novel sort of way. Have a couple glasses of Chablis and enjoy the dumb ride. ♦