[Screen It]

"GRETA"
(2019) (Chloe Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Suspense/Thriller: A young, naive woman befriends an older, lonely woman, only to realize the friendship isn't benign.
PLOT:
Frances McCullen (CHLOE GRACE MORETZ) is a young woman whose mother died in the past year, and believing her father, Chris (COLM FEORE), has moved on with his life too quickly, she's moved from Boston to New York to live with her friend, Erica Penn (MAIKA MONROE).

While traveling on the subway, she finds an abandoned handbag and decides she must return it to its owner, Greta Hideg (ISABELLE HUPPERT). She's a lonely French widow who says her daughter is off in Paris and takes up Frances' offer to help her adopt a dog for company. But she prefers the latter in the form of Frances and the two quickly strike up a friendship.

But when the young woman discovers something quite troubling in the older woman's cabinet, Frances realizes she must nip that in the bud. But Greta isn't willing to accept that, first acting confused and worried about Frances' sudden change of heart and demeanor. The more Frances tries to avoid Greta, however, the more obsessed the latter becomes.

With little help from the police, Frances tries to get on with her life, but as Greta ups her game in stalking her, the young woman realizes her life might be in danger.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Having lapped that big bright thing in the sky some fifty-five times now, I've learned a thing or two about friendship. For the most part and for a variety of reasons, young childhood friends will eventually grow apart and barely have much if any contact once they're in their twenties and beyond. And with just a few exceptions, the same holds true for friendships formed in high school and then college.

After that, people usually form new friendships wherever they end up and begin working and call some place home. But even those come and go, what with people relocating or having big changes in their lives (such as having kids and suddenly no longer having much time for anything).

Thus, and while not all will admit it, I have a feeling most everyone is longing for more friends in their lives, either due to being young and in a new place with few of them, or having traveled around the sun enough times to realize many friendships end up as fleeting.

With that in mind, one can easily see why a young transplant to New York from Boston, Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz), might subconsciously seek out to add another person or two to her friend list beyond her roommate (Maika Monroe). Or why a lonely old widow (Isabelle Huppert) might enjoy the company of a younger person, especially when the latter is kind enough to return the handbag she recently left on the subway.

That's the beginning of the premise for "Greta," a film that initially looks like it might be yet another variation of the old May-September pairing, albeit on the platonic side. Yet, looks can be deceiving, and writer/director Neil Jordan ("Michael Collins," "The Crying Game") and co-writer Ray Wright change things up a bit by adding a mother/daughter subtext to the proceedings, what with Frances having lost her mother recently and being estranged from her dad (Colm Feore), while Greta is widowed and her daughter is away.

But all of that is just a temporary distraction as the story eventually segues into suspense/thriller mode. In a way, it's quite similar to the standard "new friend/lover/roommate/acquaintance seems okay at first but slowly but surely lets their psychopathic freak flag fly" storyline of so many thrillers that populated the 1980s and '90s (think of "Fatal Attraction," "Single White Female," "Unlawful Entry," "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and so on).

While it's possibly less savvy younger viewers with no exposure to those flicks might not see that switch coming, anyone familiar with any of the above films (and the rest of their cinematic brethren) will predict or at least get a feeling that things are about to go south and enter wackadoodle territory.

And from that point on, the question becomes whether all that follows will simply end up derivative of everything that's preceded it, or if all involved will lean heavily into the suspense and possible terror or, if that's not possible, the all-out camp possibilities.

There's certainly enough with which to work here, especially with it being what one assumes is, to one degree or another, an updated retelling of the old Hansel and Gretel fairy tale (instead of sweets, the "witch" here uses an expensive handbag as the bait for the young adult victim).

Huppert (a two-time CÚsar Award winner, but likely all but unknown to American audiences) certainly seems game to play with the material, especially once the story and Jordan let her loose to fly that freak flag loudly and proudly. That said, and especially since it's highly unlikely this will come anywhere close to hit status, her character likely won't join the long list of deranged movie villains that audiences love to hate.

With the obviously less flamboyant role, Moretz ("Hugo," the "Carrie" remake) isn't given much opportunity to act beyond transitioning from worried to terrified. Monroe fares a tad better as the more streetwise roomie, while occasional Jordan collaborator Stephen Rea has a small part as a detective hired to search for Frances when, natch, she ends up missing, "Misery" style.

Beyond a creative double fake-out sequence, however, there's not enough here to warrant a recommendation, especially since we've pretty much seen it all before, including the would-be victims doing dumb things, haunted house style.

If anything, the film could make good Samaritans think twice about returning a found object to the owner, especially if they seem a little too desirous to form a friendship, which we all know isn't likely to last. "Greta" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 28, 2019 / Posted March 1, 2019


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