Greta, review: Isabelle Huppert is so chic and so deranged, this stalking thriller edges into self-parody

Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz star in Neil Jordan's Greta - © Widow Movie, LLC and Showbox
Isabelle Huppert and Chloë Grace Moretz star in Neil Jordan's Greta - © Widow Movie, LLC and Showbox

Dir: Neil Jordan. Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Maika Monroe, Zawe Ashton, Colm Feore, Stephen Rea. 15 cert, 99 min

There are flashes of the old Neil Jordan devilry in Greta, one of only two features made by the once-prolific filmmaker this decade, following 2012’s dilapidated vampire drama Byzantium. Far from showcasing a Jordan comeback, however, this new film exists largely to let Isabelle Huppert cut loose with some ripe self-parody.

While not technically a vampire, her character is an unsettling, widowed piano teacher – all Huppert staples – who stalks and kidnaps young women while Huppertishly quaffing red wine at every juncture. With this star, you’ve got to be wary: let her get too close, and she may have weirder designs on your blood than merely drinking it.

The name of this smiling predator is Greta Hideg, making her not actually as French as she seems, and her scam is simple. She leaves an expensive-looking handbag on the New York subway, with her ID and address inside. It takes a decent citizen such as Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), a needy waitress who has recently lost her mother to cancer, to return the bag diligently to its owner, and overtures of friendship ensue, with heavy overtones of the Cate Blanchett/Rooney Mara seduction in Carol.

Intrigued by the older woman’s sophistication, but also clearly filling that maternal void, Frances is lured into her lair, a darkly furnished salon where Greta endlessly plays Liszt’s Liebesträume – a favourite of her late husband – and talks of times past.

Magnificent actress though she is, Huppert’s cherishably wacky English-language delivery – just wait till she campily accuses someone of looking like a “cheemnay schweep” – renders Greta more of a just-for-fun creation. When she takes a solo table, unbidden, in the restaurant where Frances works, their contretemps has a delirious, go-for-broke quality.

This is some time after their friendship has entered the “maaaaybe not” phase, but well before the multiple druggings, abductions and nested nightmares of the film’s last act. Huppert loves to dance on the lacquered surface of civility and then plunge a spiked heel right through it, and for as long as the film is happily indulging her whims, it’s a trashily good time.

What doesn’t pay off, though, is any attempted thesis on female companionship, despite the efforts of Maika Monroe as Frances’s instantly suspicious roommate. The plot turns into a superficially feminist table-turning exercise, but neither Moretz nor Monroe create characters richer than cookie-cutout slasher heroines; these girls are just about sympathetic, but that’s about it.

'Cutting loose with ripe self-parody': Huppert in Greta - Credit: Shane Mahood/Showbox
'Cutting loose with ripe self-parody': Huppert in Greta Credit: Shane Mahood/Showbox

While you might expect viewer allegiance to be thrown, perversely, in Huppert’s direction instead, her character stops gaining any layers at the halfway point. Jordan, pushing on, prioritises tripping us up with narrative stunts over building true suspense, which has never been one of his particular strong suits.

It may be full of silky menace and sleek Brooklyn atmospherics, but it’s hard work to discern any grand design to Greta beyond a kind of chic derangement, laced with barely serious gotcha moments. By the time Stephen Rea has bobbed up as a hapless private investigator, he mainly serves as a Banquo-at-the-feast reminder of everything the pair previously achieved, being now a veteran of nine Jordan joints, and having peaked early with The Crying Game.

This film isn’t a nadir at all – it’s divertingly loony – but Jordan has rarely had less urgent things to say to us. By default, Huppert’s teasing, purring tones are the name of this whole game. If you want to watch her pirouette serenely around dead bodies on tiptoe, however primed you are to be underwhelmed, it’s still a compulsory date.