click to enlarge greta_04990_c.jpg

Photo via Focus Features

'Greta' is derivative, unimaginative and unbelievable 

Stalker stinker

In the new stalker thriller by writer-director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Michael Collins), a woman tells her young, naive roommate that New York City is going to eat her alive. Predictably, it does. Too bad it didn't eat the movie too.

In a trendy Tribeca apartment, Frances and Erica are living the 20-something Big Apple dream, or at least trying to. While the assured Erica preoccupies herself with parties, Frances struggles with a waitress job and tries to digest the recent death of her mother. Meanwhile, her father, back in their native Boston, leaves consoling voice messages.

It's little surprise, therefore, when Frances strikes up a surrogate-mom friendship with a French woman named Greta, whom Frances meets after finding her purse on a subway train. With the lost-and-found department closed, Frances feels compelled to return the property to Greta's house, which is easy to find thanks to the driver's license being conveniently left in the bag.

In one of the most shockingly unsurprising, unimaginative and derivative plot turns in recent cinema, not all is what it seems with Greta. In fact, the film takes only about 15 minutes to turn into a combination of Fatal Attraction, Ingrid Goes West, The Silence of the Lambs and, oh, just pick your own stalker flick. We're made aware of this change, of course, by the embarrassingly heavy-handed musical ejaculations. Thanks, composer Javier Navarrete. But, hey, it's actually not his fault. Instead, the blame for mishandling almost everything in Greta must fall on Jordan.

In the title role, Isabelle Huppert is miscast, mediocre and never in the least bit scary. In addition, her thick French accent, which has served her well in other productions, further detracts from the intended mood. Chloe Grace Moretz, as Frances, is better suited to her part, and, as usual, her beauty and ability to project purity make her infinitely watchable. But I never fully accepted her predicament, nor any other aspect of the film.

Admittedly, some viewers might be lulled into a "genre haze" by the miniscule amount of B-movie charm, or they might enjoy the competent cinematography and cleverly surreal (though too brief) misdirection at the halfway point. But, ultimately, I was disturbed not by Frances' suffering at the hands of Greta, but by the machinations of Jordan that the performers and audience were forced to endure. That is the real torture.

In throwaway roles are Colm Feore (Chicago, House of Cards) as Frances' father and Maika Monroe (It Follows) as Erica. While Feore is appropriately sympathetic, Monroe gives a performance that's far too broad, as if she stepped out of a trashy teen comedy. That's unfortunate considering her character's importance to the film's finale, which, in Jordan and co-writer Ray Wright's screenplay, probably reads rather intelligently. It just never makes that smart leap from page to screen.

"We were meant for love, not this terrible isolation," Greta tells Frances.

If only she had adopted the outlook of another Greta, who famously proclaimed, "I want to be alone." Then all this nonsense might have been avoided.

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