'Greta' a thriller with Chiller Theater shades

Whatever happened to Greta Gustafsson?

If Garbo had made a late-career thriller, it — and she — might have looked much like her namesake entry hitting the screens today.

She didn’t. And this “Greta” has nothing to do with Garbo. But I’d swear Isabelle Huppert is channeling her in the title role of this eerie Neil Jordan film.

So, right off the bat of the credits, naive New York newcomer Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) finds a purse on the subway, resists her cynical roommate’s desire to filch the money inside and dutifully returns it to the owner.

That would be Greta Hideg (Ms. Huppert), a lonely widow with a seductively generic Euro accent. She’s very grateful. Greta is long estranged from her daughter. Frances is still grieving her mother’s death of just a year ago. A natural friendship is born. Greta — a gifted pianist — plays Liszt’s gorgeous, soothing “Liebestraum” for the girl. Frances offers to help Greta find a new dog. They meet for candle-lit, romantic (but properly platonic) dinners.




  • Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Chloe Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea.
  • Rating: R for violence and disturbing images.

“It’s getting weird,” says roomie Erica (Maika Monroe), jealous of Frances’ attentions. “You’ve totally adopted this woman — you’re making her your surrogate mom.”

Soon after, Frances makes a disturbing discovery in Greta’s apartment: Erica was right. Frances is outta there! Bids Greta adieu. Permanently.

But the older woman begins to stalk her, by phone and at the restaurant where she works. Frances complains to her prissy boss, her clueless dad and her local police, all of whom blow her off. They — and New York City in general — are too busy with more pressing concerns.

“Let’s try to start over again,” begs pathetic Greta, even after being arrested — and, of course, released. Her stalking and tailing, now of Erica as well as Frances, escalate.

Is it over the top? Is there moonlight in Vermont? As the plot gets increasingly far-fetched, Greta gets increasingly diabolical, Frances gets kidnapped and — well, let’s just say boxed in — all to the lovely strains of “Liebestraum,” which I’ll never be able to listen to again. A finger gets cut off (not necessarily Frances’). Forensic question for Dr. Cyril Wecht: Can’t people with gags in their mouth still make some serious noise? Not enough, it seems, to alert anyone or save the worthless life of the investigative lawyer (Stephen Rea) hired by Frances’ hapless dad.

Irish director Neil Jordan — Oscar winner for “The Crying Game” (1992) screenplay, much admired for “Mona Lisa” (1985), “Interview with the Vampire” (1994) and “End of the Affair” (1999) — deserves his cult status. I totally hate his cheap noisy jump scares, especially the boom!-with-zoom variety, but there’s no denying their effectiveness. I was a nervous wreck throughout.

On the other hand, I totally love Isabelle Huppert (most notably for “Elle” in 2016 and “The Piano Teacher” in 2001. She’s terrific here with her icy Terminal Stare and Garboesque delivery, in addition to the uncanny physical resemblance.

Ms. Moretz, specializing in ingenue dark characters ever since “Amityville Horror” (2005), through Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” (2011) and Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” 2012, gives this material more commitment and credibility than it deserves.

Somehow, despite the insane ending and the fact that we pretty much see every twist coming, we buy into the horror tropes and get sucked in, thanks to Mr. Jordan’s deft pacing and cockeyed humor that complements the suspense. People at the preview were actually shouting out warnings to the endangered characters on screen.

It’s almost a tongue-in-joke homage, on the order of Anne Bancroft’s wonderful “Garbo Talks!” (1984). You take your posthumous celebrity where you can get it.

Garbo, of course, would never have taken the Bette Davis-Joan Crawford route, or this role. Among countless offers, she turned down both “I Remember Mama” and Hitchcock’s “The Paradine Case” in 1947 with a fabulously succinct telegram that covered both: “No mamas, no murderesses.”

Western Union, after all, charged by the word.

Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris: parispg48@aol.com.

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