There are many familiar stories whirling around the center of Neil Jordan’s Greta. It’s not surprising that some of them are fairy tales since Jordan also directed the spellbinding The Company of Wolves (1984) and the (frankly terrible) In Dreams (1999), two movies that take cues from the Brothers Grimm.
At the core of both of those films are predatory men – literally wolfish in the case of the earlier movie. Greta flips the gender of the titular villain (the talented Isabelle Huppert, channeling Catherine Deneuve’s vampire character in The Hunger), but not her victim, the guileless Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz).
Residing at this movie’s heart is the problematic assumption that women far apart in age should not hang out unless they are related – and maybe not even then. Frances’ own mother has died, and her grief, combined with her father’s inability to cope with any of it, is one of the reasons she first meets Greta and is then compelled to spend time with her.
Shared activities include helping Greta adopt a dog (her former pooch, like her husband, has left this world) and cooking dinner with her in spite of objections about how weird it all is from her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe, having fun playing a self-absorbed party girl who somehow also has a gorgeous New York City apartment and no apparent job).
Is it truly that weird to have older friends? Sure, Greta and Frances’ surrogate mother-daughter relationship is filling a void for them both that might also be addressed with therapy, but it’s pretty normal – at least initially. Greta’s own daughter is in Paris studying at the conservatory (or is she?) and she quickly slips into referring to Frances with pet names like cherie and texting her late at night with cute dog pictures.
As for Frances, she falls for the image Greta presents – of a lonely, technologically challenged woman in her 60s who absentmindedly left her purse on the subway and just needs a friend. But when Frances finds a cabinet filled with rows of exactly that same purse in Greta’s apartment, and when Greta starts stalking her, she realizes too late that Erica was right all along.
The takeaway from Greta, which I fear I’m making sound more interesting than it is, is that old women are monsters, and maybe mothers are monsters, too. (It also includes various lessons about how not to leave obvious clues about your raging psychopathy out in the open, but that’s for another piece.)
The movie is best when it embraces its campiness and its fairy tale qualities, but even then the cliché that older women are either horrible witches or evil stepmothers is a tired one. And though it channels some great cinema – like The Hunger, Misery, Takashi Miike’s horrifying Audition and even the very fun (though equally ridiculous) Lifetime-to-Netflix sensation “You” – it always just feels like a hack job. The soundtrack, however, which floats dreamily between 19th-century piano and indie music sweethearts like St. Vincent, is stellar.