Director Neil Jordan
Actress Chloë Grace Moretz at an event for Greta
Actress Isabelle Huppert doing her thing
Ireland USA (98 mi) 2019 ‘Scope d: Neil Jordan Official Site
This is not Isabelle Huppert as the gregariously sunny and overly friendly tourist in Hang Sang-soo’s delightfully funny Claire's Camera (La caméra de Claire) (2017), but something more along the lines of Paul Verhoeven’s twistedly demented, over-the-top Elle (2016), where Huppert steals the show as a rape victim gone psycho in retaliation, a howling audience pleaser that likely sent Huppert more scripts along similar lines, with this film exploring similar territory. Here, in an English-speaking role, she’s a wildly exaggerated, wacko stalker character, amusingly borrowing an Olivier Assayas technique utilized in Personal Shopper (2017), where a cellphone becomes an instrument of horror, sending shockwaves of anxiety through the audience in what seems an outrageous sequential sequence of editing, each emailed photo showing a glimpse of someone being followed, literally tracking her by the second, yet there is no one that can be seen, creating a creepy feeling of ghostly invisibility. Huppert inhabits that unfilled space where you don’t want to go, feeling quite comfortable in the role, perhaps relishing the opportunity, as after each shot is finished shooting, the subsequent relief afterwards is probably a cascade of laughs, as this was probably much more fun to make than to sit in a theater to witness, where it’s all about psychological gamesmanship, offering a few clues along the way, but nothing that would suggest where this one is going. Neil Jordan hasn’t made a film in 6-years, so something about this intrigued him. Working with Huppert, who has over 120 film credits to her name, appearing in 20 films premiering in competition at Cannes, also more than 25 stage and nearly 20 television movie appearances, may have been the attraction, as who wouldn’t want to work with her? She’s a French legend and icon, among the greatest to ever do it, still a force to be reckoned with. That said, this is not among her better films, but is among her more trashy roles, as she is slumming in B-movie schlock film territory, brazenly going where few artists of her stature ever venture, as it’s considerably beneath her elevated rare air, as she won’t be nominated for any awards with this one, yet it’s to her credit that she’s willing to take on “any” role.
Never one to shy away from horror films, this is a throwback to the era of films like THE SHINING (1980), DRESSED TO KILL (1980), FATAL ATTRACTION (1987), CAPE FEAR (1991) or BASIC INSTINCT (1992), where seemingly normal characters went off the rails in a ridiculously big way, becoming psychopathic avengers or killers, with overly familiar movie stars having naughty fun scaring the living bejeezus out of audiences. While there tended to be Hitchcockian sexual undertones, that doesn’t exist here, instead relying upon an unknown factor, namely the death of a parent, which creates a certain amount of sympathy, making it that much easier to exploit the underlying vulnerabilities of the character. Enter Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), a Smith college graduate working as a waitress while living in a stunning Tribeca loft apartment gifted by the wealthy father of her best friend Erica, Maika Monroe from Robert David Mitchell’s urban zombie epic It Follows (2014), who feels like a Valley girl transplant from Southern California, speaking a girl lingo that seemingly only exists in the movies. Surprisingly short on character development, we never learn much about anyone in this film, no back story, no other friendships to speak of, no social life to draw upon, basically a blank canvas that is sprinkled with various clues throughout, but everything is set in motion from a single seemingly innocuous event, the discovery of a handbag on the subway, with Frances intent on returning it to its rightful owner. While Erica is all about stealing the cash and tossing the bag, Frances retorts, “That’s just not the way we do things where I’m from.” Riding her bike across the bridge to Brooklyn (then leaving it unlocked), Frances discovers Greta (Huppert), a middle-aged widow who seems to get by offering piano instruction, playing Liszt as a past time, seemingly leading a lonely life, reaching out to Frances like a long-lost daughter, as her own is too busy living her life in Paris. Suggesting she might get a pet dog for companionship, Frances agrees to help her pick one out, with Greta choosing the mopiest dog in the kennel, the most disinterested and least desirable, exuding no signs of friendliness, just one day away from being put to sleep.
While these women are bonding, Frances freaks out Erica a bit by avoiding an invitation to a party, instead spending time with Greta, who Erica calls an “old lady,” which seems like misplaced priorities, with Erica berating her “She’s not your mother,” but Frances is actually calling her a friend. That is, until she discovers Greta has a storage space filled with the exact same handbag, each one with a different girl’s name and phone number attached, signs of a deceitful plot with ominous implications, ignoring her altogether afterwards. Greta ups the ante, flooding her cellphone with unanswered calls, showing up at work unexpectedly, growing desperate in her absence, showing signs of deteriorating mental instability. Ignoring her altogether, Greta stands across the street from the restaurant where she works, remaining in that fixed position all day, then suddenly appears outside her apartment. Calls to the police get her nowhere, as no one’s been threatened, where the police suggest that she simply ignore her. Yet when she shows up with a restaurant reservation, she throws one hell of a hissy fit, played without an ounce of subtlety, turning demonstrably violent, where she has to be physically removed from the premises, hauled away in a paddy van, with Frances asking the police if she should still just ignore her? She immediately files for a restraining order, but it takes months to obtain a court hearing, leaving her in a state of limbo. Of course, things only escalate from there, as Greta turns up unexpectedly just about anywhere, where one of the best scenes in the entire film turns out to be a jolting shock of extreme fear that ends up a dream sequence, yet it magnifies the hold this woman has over Frances’ life. Before long that hysterical fear becomes her reality, as Greta turns into a hidden monster with the most ridiculously vile motives, turning uglier by the minute, becoming a Gothic horror thriller so over-the-top that its shameless ambition seems designed to creep people out, yet Huppert, a true mastermind of lunacy, sunnily goes about her business, even dancing from the sheer joy of the evil she inflicts, as she’s a woman on a mission, undeterred by any and all obstacles, which she views as mere child’s play after a while, so easily manipulating others seemingly without effort. Even Jordan regular Stephen Rea makes a brief appearance, but once the storyline takes on the psychotic deliriums of Greta’s deranged state of mind, the film becomes nauseatingly disturbing, too depressing to fall into the camp category, perhaps lacking the lesbian context it needs, especially since she plays the all too recognizable Liebestraum (Dream of Love) on the piano, Liberace Liebestraum.wmv - YouTube (4:34), the kind of lush melody featured in 30’s and 40’s heavily romanticized black and white love stories, instead regressing into the grotesque pleasures of torture porn, becoming little more than a crudely sadistic infantile fantasy.