In the vein of psycho-stalker thrillers like Fatal Attraction, Single White Female, and Misery, Neil Jordan directs Ray Wright’s script of a tale of obsession set in the bustling streets of New York.
Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) is the city newbie, getting adjusted to the lifestyle after the passing of her mum. Spotting an abandoned bag on the subway, she makes her way to the address listed within and meets Greta (Isabelle Huppert), a sweet and charming French piano teacher.
The two seem to share an easy sense of camaraderie, and their introverted personalities ease them quickly into becoming fast friends. Frances’s roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) picks up on this as a pseudo-surrogacy situation and warns her friend about it going overboard.
She had no idea.
After Frances accidentally discovers a cabinet filled with replicas of the handbag she picked up, each tagged with a post-it of a girl’s name and number, she quickly realises Greta isn’t the kind madame she portrays to be, and decides to cut off the relationship abruptly. And as we have been educated by the earlier movies, that can only end badly.
Greta runs a decent story with some inventive sequences and twists that serve to upend expectations, but there’s the slight problem of how the movie really tests your believability, laying out blatant loopholes that distract from the tension.
Stacked against her seeming illustrious history in baiting other young women, it seems crazy (even for Greta) to go to the lengths she did for Frances, escalating several situations which could have ended her obsession prematurely. It’s wildly careless and doesn’t seem in line with the meticulous older hermit, or a seasoned psycho.
The terror that comes from such thrillers is how the predator creeps into every crevice of your life, and Greta achieves this somewhat, though frequently in a haphazard manner. This becomes even campy, especially in scenes where she takes images of Erica in public settings without getting caught. It suddenly moves the movie into slasher-villain-teleporting territory.
Another area of contention is Frances’s captive period. It’s not exactly played out very well because the period feels brief and indeterminable. This kills off the audience investment as there’s no real time frame and there are gaps unaccounted for – are we talking hours or days here? Who know? And when the larger-framed Frances visually seems like she can overpower the older lady anytime she wants, even with the drug-induced circumstances, it is hard to believe those scenes where she chooses to huddle in a corner or tremble like an adolescent. The missed opportunities are just quite hard to swallow.
While Moretz struggled, Huppert seemed to thoroughly enjoy her role as the psychotic villain. This gives the film some of the more memorable (if unintendedly funny) moments, with her delivering her mental prognosis on our poor Frances, or spouting prose while prancing around with a syringe. Her scenes of discipline are especially chilling and disturbing, as is her method of punishment.
Through all the drama, Greta remains in mediocrity largely because it doesn’t draw us in with any real back story. Frances’s loss of her mother and Greta’s own failure as a parent is outlined just barely with some wistful looks at old photographs. And Erica and Frances’s estranged father are peripheral satellites that don’t do much beyond expressing what the audience wants to say.
Jordan may have some good tricks up his sleeves with clever turns in the second half of the film, but it’s not enough to make this into a harrowing journey it should be
Crazy gets a little campy, but Huppert’s performance and some inventive twists keep this watchable.
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