The odd, flawed thriller Greta is the latest chapter in Isabelle Huppert’s strange career in English. She is deservedly a giant in her native France — I’ve seen her prove her greatness time and again in French movies. And though she has been acting sporadically in English since 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, she hasn’t been able to put together an English performance that has approached the stature of her French ones. She and the rest of the cast were muted in 2015’s Louder Than Bombs, she was underused in the previous year’s The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, and she got mud smeared all over her in a sex scene in 2004’s I Heart Huckabees. I’m at a loss as to why she has been so indifferent when so many other foreign actors have shown their star qualities in our tongue.
Chloë Grace Moretz stars here as Frances McCullen, a recent college grad from Boston who moved to New York City after her mom died suddenly and her dad (Colm Feore) quickly remarried. Now she waits tables at a fancy Manhattan restaurant and is lucky enough to have a fabulously wealthy college friend named Erica (Maika Monroe) putting her up in her spacious loft apartment. One day, Frances is going home on the subway when she sees an unattended leather bag on a seat. Instead of calling Homeland Security as Erica suggests, Frances finds an address in the wallet and takes it to Greta Hideg (Huppert), a polite widowed Frenchwoman who seems starved for company since her daughter grew up and moved away. Unfortunately, Frances finds a cabinet full of identical leather bags in Greta’s house, all of them tagged with Post-It notes bearing the names and phone numbers of other women.
Irish director Neil Jordan has been plagued by inconsistency over the course of his long career, and even though he’s listed as one of this film’s writers as well, he doesn’t seem to have the instincts for a trashy potboiler like this. (Further evidence: The Brave One.) The early comic scenes between Frances and yoga-and-colonic enthusiast Erica don’t work, and there’s a regrettable nightmare sequence in the middle. Jordan can put together harrowing stretches like the one in which Greta texts a series of photos to Frances that make it clear that she’s coming after Erica at that moment. However, he doesn’t build up a sense of dread as Frances finds herself looking twice at every woman with reddish-brown hair she passes on the street. Huppert shows flashes of creativity and personality here, but the only time she’s truly scary is when she toys with a private investigator (Stephen Rea) whom she has drugged.
The acting honors here belong to Moretz, who shows the character thinking frantically even in the midst of her terror, trying to come up with the word or action that will make this crazed stalker go away. The script has a devilishly clever plot twist near the end, too, when everything seems lost for Frances. The elements in Greta could add up to something special. It’s just a shame that they don’t quite come together.
Starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Isabelle Huppert. Directed by Neil Jordan. Written by Ray Wright and Neil Jordan. Rated R.