You can elevate a B-grade thriller with a superb cast and world-class direction, but at the end of the day it is still going to have to embrace its pulp roots to remain enjoyable. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer is a long-term master of this style of popular cinema, using visually adept filmmakers to shoot lowest-common-denominator action movies with prestige casts and transform them into box office success. Greta, a 2018 feature directed by Neil Jordan, is a recent example of this form of cinema. It has a well-regarded director at the helm, with a history of quality pictures including The Company of Wolves, Michael Collins, and The Crying Game. Its talented cast is headlined by rising star Chloe Grace Moretz and French acting legend Isabelle Huppert. It is also an absolutely unrealistic, aggressively B-grade thriller. Embrace the gaudy melodrama and it is a derivative but satisfying pleasure. Approach in hope of a complexity or maturity in keeping with its French star, and it is only going to annoy and frustrate.
Frances McCullen (Moretz) finds an abandoned handbag on the New York subway. Returning to its owner, she meets a polite French loner named Greta (Huppert). While Frances is initially attracted to the mysterious older woman, she soon discovers the handbag was left on the subway on purpose – and that Greta has no intention of letting Frances abandon her.
Greta is a film purpose-built for shock twists and rising suspense, but not for realism. It is the sort of narrative that fractures and crumbles under close inspection, but manages to keep a gripping hand on its audience within the moment. It is clear from the outset that the mysterious Greta is not what she appears to be, and the film’s first act concludes on a superb stomach-dropping discovery in one of her cupboards.
From there the film shifts into a familiar pattern as Frances attempts to move on with her life while Greta refuses to leave her alone. There is nothing in the film’s remaining two thirds that audiences have not seen before, but it is well directed and particularly well performed – and that makes a tremendous difference.
It is rare to see an actor of Huppert’s origins and calibre playing such a deliciously heightened villain, and she performs not only with respect for the genre but with a palpable and infectious sense of enjoyment. One does not watch these sorts of popcorn thrillers for subtlety, and she embraces the full potential of her role. More earnest performances stem from the supporting cast: Maika Monroe, Colm Feore, and Neil Jordan regular Stephen Rea. Chloe Grace Moretz manages to enrich her leading part with some solid character work and charisma; she is let down by some poor scripting during the film’s final act, but otherwise acquits herself well.
Neil Jordan knows exactly the sort of film he is making here, and delivers an attractive, slick entertainment. It looks great, is paced well, and while it does slip a little in that critical third act Jordan manages the right the ship effectively by the end. It’s a satisfying confection altogether. This is A-grade B-grade.