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Twisted thriller

Neil Jordan’s Greta

THE pairing of eclectic Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan with Isabelle Huppert, star of 2016’s outlandish Elle, seemed a recipe for a potent thriller. Greta, the fruit of this creative partnership, is a study in deceit and obsession, along the lines of Single White Female or Fear; unfortunately, Jordan is at a loss to infuse proceedings with his trademark fabulism and the result is a preposterous, peculiarly forgettable outing from a consummate director. Though it is occasionally redeemed by its
leading lady, who capably tosses and twirls her way through what amounts to an extended psychotic breakdown, the film largely outstays its welcome, only finding its feet in the most lacklustre and dreary manner possible.

Somewhere in here, there’s a perverse meditation on the anomie of the big city, but Greta actually plays out like an extravagantly-coutured throwback to the shabby stalker-horror films of the ’90s, high on psychopathic outbursts and low on thematic depth. Waiter Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) is struggling to come to terms with the loss of her mother, and with the solitude of life in glitzy New York. On a whim, she returns a misplaced handbag to Greta (Huppert), a wealthy widow; bonding over their mutual loneliness, they strike up a quaint odd-couple relationship, which takes a perilous turn with revelations concerning Greta’s identity. The synopsis alone should be enough to induce déjà vu, but that isn’t, in itself, an issue – this sort of picture is able to compensate for its riffing on familiar material with compelling character development and inventive plotting. The topsy-turvy Greta, which holds our attention through its first half-hour before getting mired in a swamp of clichés, misses a trick here – Moretz and her co-stars play a ludicrous screenplay with straight faces, barrelling their way through a series of contrived, absurd situations.

When a demented Greta begins blowing up her phone, Frances fails to throw the thing out; the stalker is alternately portrayed as being unhinged to the point of psychosis and savvy enough to outsmart Frances, the authorities and everybody who comes looking for them. Once again, this would not be a problem were Jordan willing to embrace the trashiness implicit in the whole thing, but Greta is tonally bananas, inhabiting a realm halfway between lunkheaded thriller and dark, offbeat comedy. By the time it goes full slasher flick in the third act, it enters eye-rolling territory, from whence none return.

All this is something of a tragedy, because Greta is peppered with glimmers of inspiration, signs that a convoluted build-up is bound to give way any moment and allow the undeniable talents of all involved to shine through; that these never amount to much leaves a foul taste in the mouth. As an actor, Huppert is renowned for dabbling on the ‘quirkier’ fringes of womankind, but never before has she invested herself in a figure as downright loopy as the protagonist of the title. Such scenes as a surprise visit to Frances’ workplace allow Huppert to fly her freak flag and it’s a glorious sight as she darts effortlessly between schoolmarm affability and violent hysteria. It’s in its more trailer-friendly sequences that the film comes closest to capitalising upon its potential; even more than Byzantium, his last project, Greta shows Jordan to be a refined, intelligent director with a real weak spot when it comes to engaging storytelling.

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