Neil Jordan’s “Greta” resembles 1990s psychopathic stalker movies such as “Misery,” “Pacific Heights,” “Single White Female,” “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Unlawful Entry,” Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” and, of course, the San Francisco Giants movie “The Fan.”
Some generated suspense and worked fairly well; and in Jordan’s skillful hands, “Greta,” despite silliness, also works fairly well.
Jordan, who’s from Ireland and has made the fine, smart “Mona Lisa,” “The Crying Game” and “The Butcher Boy,” also is unafraid of genre films; he’s taken on werewolves, ghosts, vampires, psychics and selkies as well as run-of-the-mill criminals and murderers, handling all with quiet intelligence and grace.
In “Greta,” Chloë Grace Moretz is instantly likable as Frances, a kind, sad woman whose mother recently died, trying to start her life in New York City. She works as a server in a nice restaurant and rooms with her outgoing friend Erica (Maika Monroe).
She avoids phone calls from her father (Colm Feore), not knowing what to say, while Erica vainly tries to get her to go out on the town.
One night, Frances finds a purse on the subway and decides to return it. She goes to the address on the driver’s license and meets Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an older woman who seems lonely, with a late husband and an absent daughter.
Frances convinces her to get a dog, and they make a date to pick one out together.
Greta wistfully observes that someday Frances will stop visiting, and Frances insists she won’t. “I’m like chewing gum… I tend to stick around,” she says.
Then, at Greta’s place, Frances discovers a cabinet full of purses, identical to the one left on the subway. Alarmed, she tries to end things, but finds things can’t be ended quite so easily.
The screenplay, co-written by Jordan and Ray Wright, brings up issues that are difficult to ignore: most particularly, that the psychopath stalker seems to have the supernatural ability to know where everyone is at all times and the ability to sneak up silently from any distance.
While there are moments when viewers wish the good guys could be a bit more on their toes, where logic fails in “Greta,” tense squirming and giddy seat-grabbing comes in.
The two strong lead performances, and a scrappy third by Monroe, definitely help.
Moretz, 22 and a veteran of dozens of movies, feels as if she’s been around forever; she’s one of those “old souls” that people talk about. Her vulnerability and hurt in her role are touching.
The great Huppert has gone to the well of darkness for brutal, intense roles in Claude Chabrol’s “Merci pour le Chocolat,” Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” and Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle.” “Greta” joins that list.
Jordan’s old faithful standby Stephen Rea is also here, as a shabby, nearly-decimated private detective. This is their 11th feature film together since Jordan’s 1982 debut, “Angel” (aka “Danny Boy”).
Jordan’s best achievement in “Greta,” aside from a few solid, nail-biting moments, is establishing a New York that feels, not bustling or noisy, but lonely and quiet.
Quietness is his trademark, and he uses it here to demonstrate just how these two women could connect, how the empty spaces within them could draw them together. And when sound is used for drama or for fear, it actually means something.
“Greta” gets more reckless as it goes — it doesn’t reach Hitchcockian levels of nuance or control — but Jordan’s touch and his genuineness take what could have been a ridiculous film and make it briskly enjoyable.
Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea
Written by: Neil Jordan, Ray Wright
Directed by: Neil Jordan
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes