There are two types of horror movies worth seeing: those that are done so well that they genuinely terrify you, and those that are done so poorly that you cannot stop laughing. Greta falls into neither of these categories. While Neil Jordan, the director, accomplishes a small degree of terror through jumpscares and gore, the attempt at psychological disturbance falls flat, and the film exudes silliness rather than horror.
After Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) loses her mother, she decides to live with her wealthy friend, Erica (Maika Monroe), in their own sizeable apartment in the Big Apple. Unsupervised teenagers have formally become a staple in horror films in our modern film landscape—the only other caveat is that they must also be painfully ignorant and naive. Frances is no exception; after stumbling upon an expensive handbag on the subway, instead of returning it to the authorities—as any reasonable New Yorker would know to do—she delivers it herself to a seemingly harmless older woman (a previous staple for the horror genre) and the two develop a strange friendship, contrary to warnings from Erica. Frances and Greta (Isabelle Huppert) are drawn to each other as Frances is motherless and Greta’s daughter is off in Paris studying ballet—supposedly. Before long, Frances finds a cupboard full of the same type of handbag she found of the train and realizes that Greta is not as innocent as she seems. Unfortunately, she is already in too deep and Greta refuses to let Frances out of her life. Greta starts to show up at Frances’s work and outside her apartment, and even floods Frances’s phone with texts and voicemails. Her behavior matches the stalker ex-husband trope more than the typical crazy, lonely old woman.
The film goes from potentially disturbing to ridiculous when you discover Greta has quasi-supernatural powers: she is able to follow people undetectably and kidnap them without anyone catching a whiff of her trail. Since the psychological scare of the movie should come from the potential for you to be the one being terrorized by Greta, the supernatural elements not only detract from the spookiness, but also make you think twice about the subset of horror this film belongs to. The most terrifying scenes come without explanation, like when Greta stalks Erica, sending constant photo updates to Frances, even though every time Erica turns around she is alone. Or when Frances gets stuck in an elevator that magically shrinks, enough to make anyone claustrophobic. Vindictive people are scary because they exist; but a Greta with magic powers is not one that will keep me up at night.
The only thing keeping the film afloat is Huppert’s performance. When she’s not being portrayed as a witch, her psychotic prances in and out of the film—literally and figuratively—provide the only redemption within the faulty plot. The camera follows Huppert’s every move, stooping to capture her footwork as she dances around those who get caught in her web. Meanwhile, Moretz trips and stumbles, allowing Huppert to dominate the spotlight.
The film falls short because it does not know what it is. Playing into elements of psychological thrillers, the supernatural, and outright grotesqueness, the plot is so scattered that the characters lack clear motives: throughout the film, Jordan fails to provide a reason as to why Greta acts the way she does towards Frances, other than the repeated demonstrations that she is legitimately insane. Even if she is, why Frances?
When it comes to horror, films like Get Out (2017) have been redefining how audiences think about horror and what it can encompass. Greta takes a modern approach to a subgenre of horror that was once popular during the 80’s and 90’s that revolves around a crazy, chaotic individual that becomes fixated on someone and terrorizes them to the point that audiences want them gone (Single White Female, 1992, Unlawful Entry, 1992, to name a few). However, the audience seemed to be almost rooting for Huppert, exemplifying Jordan’s failure to reinvent or reinvigorate the genre, resulting in a neither original nor captivating film. Save yourself some time and leave this handbag on the train.