“Everyone needs a friend” is the line that Isabelle Huppert repeats several times in Neil Jordan’s new thriller Greta. As the widowed piano teacher who circles Chloë Grace Moretz’s young waitress, Frances, Huppert is a large part of what makes this trashy-yet-classy outing so watchable.
Having recently moved to New York City after the death of her mother, Frances considers it good manners to return a handbag she finds on the subway, rather than keeping its contents as her more cynical roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) suggests. But when she meets its owner, Greta Hideg, the two of them unexpectedly become fast friends.
But in between dog-shopping and cosy dinners, Frances makes an alarming discovery that changes her perspective on her new friend. It certainly frightens her enough to make her sever ties, but Greta isn’t so easily persuaded that their friendship is over, and Frances soon learns that this apparently harmless woman is capable of much more sinister behaviour.
On the surface, Greta looks like a classic case of a textbook genre piece being elevated by the people involved. What sets it apart from more pretentious works of genre tourism, where the filmmaker somehow thinks they’re better than the material, is that Jordan knows and respects the attendant thriller conventions, as well as the audience who like it.
Co-credited on Ray Wright’s script, Jordan delivers a suitably entertaining melodrama that never shrieks or wails in order to get a rise out of its audience. This makes it all the more enjoyable when the film does start to get a bit crazy, especially with Huppert and Moretz working exceptionally well together in the centre of it all.
Their strong chemistry is a given, but their characters feel fully rounded despite being essentially very proficient versions of the roles they represent. For instance, Huppert brings pathos to the “crazy old lady” she’d be playing in a simpler version of the same, but not so much that you root for her. Likewise, Moretz brings gumption to her guileless character type, but still plays the heck out of all those bits that make you want to shout “what are you doing” at the screen.
Along the same lines, Monroe gives a great, scene-stealing turn as Erica, the apparently conceited roommate who becomes more and more involved in the film as it goes. More than just excelling as the snarky comic relief, she’s back on her pre-Independence Day: Resurgence form in her supporting role here. With Colm Feore and Zawe Ashton also appearing in small roles, it’s a solid ensemble.
The result is more of a gourmet thriller than others would have made of this particular script, but that still means this script is not especially surprising. It’s even a bit silly at times. Without going into spoilers, it’s the sort of film where noticing the “And Stephen Rea” credit in the opening titles is enough for you to make a good guess at the exact nature of his short role a full hour before he turns up, just from the genre and the “And”.
Still, Greta is an easy film to enjoy, especially if you like a good mix of class and trash in your thrillers. Lots of wine glasses are smashed and there are definitely some quirky talking points in the second half that we wouldn’t dream of spoiling here, but it’s never shouty or overwrought in its antics. For some premium mum-sploitation, you can’t go far wrong with Greta.
Greta is out now in UK cinemas.