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'Greta' is a dark and creepy female-centric thriller that's a tad short on thrills 

Co-writer/director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Good Thief) helms this horror mystery about lonely widow Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), who's befriended by Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young woman who finds Greta's purse on the subway and returns it. What begins as a friendly relationship turns dark as Frances realizes that Greta is evil. (98 min.)

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Glen Isabelle Huppert, who was terrific in Paul Verhoeven's 2016 rape revenge flick, Elle, is creepily amazing here as the titular character, Greta, a lonely woman with a murky past who lives in a small apartment tucked away behind what appears to be an abandoned building. If you've seen the trailer, it's giving nothing away to say she seems to lure in unsuspecting good Samaritans like Frances, whose naiveté makes her a perfect mark. It seems everyone can see Greta is up to no good except Frances, who even fends off warning from her best friend and roommate Erica (Maika Monroe). Erica tells her that it's weird in Manhattan to befriend some lonely old woman Frances knows nothing about. Frances, ever trusting, starts to spend time with Greta but finally realizes she's not what she seems when she finds a cabinet full of identical purses to the one she found and returned. What follows is Frances' attempt to end the budding relationship, which turns the film into a stalker thriller. While Moretz as sweet-but-foolish Frances does her best to keep up with Hubbert, she can't quite manage it, coming off as unnaturally weak and vulnerable. Frances is younger, bigger, and stronger than Greta, and when things eventually turn physical, it seems implausible that Frances doesn't simply overpower the older, frailer woman. The film generates a dark vibe, is well filmed, and is watchable, but without Hubbert's performance, there would be little to recommend it, aside from its Sapphic subtext, which I'll let some Queer Studies grad student explore.

Anna Hubbert is in full force, and her dark and twisty Greta is a bone-chilling character. She's definitely the one keeping the audience's eyes locked on screen. Frances is the perfect target for her games, both beautiful and full of wide-eyed innocence—the young woman falls fast for a taste of maternal love after her own mother's death a year ago. While she's at first defensive of the mysterious French woman, once Greta's little "trick" to make friends is revealed, Frances is royally creeped-out. Instead of letting her newfound friend go, Greta doubles down on her obsession with Frances, stalking her at work, following Erica around, and generally just giving Frances and everyone around her the heebie-jeebies. This film definitely isn't for everyone. If you don't like a film that carries a general sense of unease, this one may make your stomach turn. Personally, I like a dark, twisted character full of secrets and intrigue, and Greta fits that bill to a tee. Why Frances was unable to overpower her is a pretty gaping problem, and plenty of times I wanted to yell out at the screen, "What are you doing?!?" But, in the end, the story is more Greta's than Frances', and, boy, is it a wild ride.

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Glen I too wanted to yell at the screen, like when Frances rides her bike to Greta's and leaves it out front unlocked. "Your bike's going to get stolen, dummy! This is New York City!" Obviously, director Jordan isn't interested in realism. It's all about atmosphere. Greta's apartment, for instance, is small and dark, and filled with photos of her husband and daughter and the piano on which she plays classical music. There's a touch of Hitchcock in the space as well as some marvelous foreshadowing. When Frances first brings Greta's purse and is invited in for coffee, banging on the wall behind the piano leads Greta to yell at the ostensibly loud neighbor making noise to show some courtesy, "Quiet, please!" Only much later do we discover the real source of the noise. When the stalking starts, Greta seems to know her rights, and even when Frances calls the police, Officer Deroy (Thaddeus Daniels) makes it clear that it's not against the law for Greta to stand outside the window of the restaurant where Frances is a server and stare menacingly inside at her. Thanks to private investigator Brian Cody (Stephen Rea, who's appeared in many of the director's films), we eventually learn Greta's backstory, which helps explain her aberrant behavior. Cody, hired by Frances' worried father, Chris (Colm Feore), eventually tracks Greta to her apartment, and we start to believe she'll finally be caught, but that'd be too easy for a Jordan film. Instead, the ending comes as a surprise, and the story's outcome is anyone's guess right until the end. If you're a fan of thrillers, head to the theater. I didn't love it, but I'm glad I saw it.

Anna: I really enjoyed the detail of the ambiance Jordan created. Greta's place is full of dark nooks and crannies—mysterious, just as she is. Frances and Erica's loft is large and airy, but with that a vulnerability is created—it feels like they're living in a fishbowl. Before things really go haywire, Frances attempts to piece together the truth behind Greta's facade, and after finding a bunch of letters marked "Return to Sender" in Greta's garbage with her daughter's name and a Brooklyn address, she tries her own hand at P.I. work, tracking down the woman Greta claims is in Paris. When she finally meets up with her mysterious contact, the truth behind Greta's life is murkier than ever. One thing is clear—she needs to get away from this woman and fast, but every attempt just brings more drama from the frantic, obsessive Greta. I didn't know what to expect next from her, and my guess is that's what the filmmaker wanted. There's a pretty clever dream sequence that offers an alternate path, one much more desirable. Once I realized that reality was indeed false, the intense sense of dread set in and I knew a neat, happy ending was not in sight. In a world where niceties are cherished, Greta is a cautionary reminder that sometimes it's best just to let the police handle found objects. You never know what the 'sweet' French lady who left it behind has up her sleeve. Δ


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