Maybe Not So Much With the New Friend
Big film genres stick around. As long as movies are a device for long-form storytelling, we’ll always have earnest dramas, goofy comedies, and movies where a guy walks away from an explosion without looking at it. But smaller sub-genres come and go, and we seem to be entering a resurgence of the Yuppies in Peril film.
If it’s been a minute since you’ve seen one of these flicks; no worries—I’m here to help. Originally, Yuppies in Peril movies focused on a young, white, and affluent person, couple or family being psychologically and physically assaulted. For example, disc jockey Clint Eastwood is stalked by an obsessed fan in Play Misty for Me. Yuppie swine Michael Douglas drives his goomad Glenn Close nuts in Fatal Attraction. Naive homeowners Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine get their asses profoundly and repeatedly kicked by their lunatic tenant Michael Keaton in Pacific Heights. You get the idea.
Yuppies in Peril movies, or YIPs, are a curious hybrid of horror movies and thrillers. On the one hand, most of the scary movie tropes are on display. Unspeakable things happen to household pets, the protagonist has a slow-motion nervous breakdown, and the villain absorbs a truly impressive amount of punishment and manages one last scare before being dispatched. However, as sleazy and dumb as YIPs can be, they like to put on airs. The main characters are being victimized, you see, and there’s often some kind of commentary about society. Unlawful Entry was about the fear of a rampaging police officer, and Cape Fear is about a deranged maniac who’s a little pissed at his lawyer for delivering a sub-par defense.
Things change, and our anxieties change with them. The upcoming film The Intruder looks to be an interesting switch on the typical YIP formula, in which a black couple buys a home from the psychologically unstable Dennis Quaid, and he can’t accept new people dwelling in “his” house. From a more generational perspective comes Greta, a YIP that examines the terrors of a new friend and new adulthood.
We’re introduced to Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz) a doe-eyed innocent living and working in what passes for New York City—in this case, Toronto and Dublin. On the way home from her thankless job as a waitress, she spies a handbag on the subway. Erica (Maika Monroe) is Frances’ rich roommate, and her plan is to ditch the bag, keep the wad of cash inside it, and have an awesome spa day. Frances disagrees, and there’s no question in her mind that the right thing to do is to return it to its rightful owner.
The rightful owner turns out to be Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), a widowed woman from France. She lives in a small home in Brooklyn that’s within a small alley and spends her time playing Chopin and Beethoven on her piano. Greta is desperately lonely. Frances is okay with this, particularly since her own mother died recently. They strike up a friendship, and Frances even helps Greta figure out a cellphone and adopt a dog.
Do the two of them settle into a years-long friendship that allows them to both grow into their best selves? They do not. In fact, Frances discovers there’s something more than a little off about her new friend. Maybe it’s the pounding noises coming from behind the piano. Perhaps it’s the incessant phone calls and texts Frances receives.* The cabinet full of identical handbags is definitely problematic.
In many YIPs, the protagonists make cartoonishly bad decisions, allowing the villain to harass them with ease. Luckily, Frances is not an imbecile, and when things start to get weird, she peaces out. Greta doesn’t get the hint. She sends threatening pictures, seems to be around every corner, and in a ludicrous and highly entertaining scene, goes full HAM in the middle of the restaurant that Frances works at. Then, things get really screwy.
If I’m being honest with you, I kind of enjoyed Greta, despite it having some major problems. Surprisingly, one of those problems is director Neil Jordan. He’s made far better films, including The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. Here, he’s made a thriller that occasionally is compelled to remind the audience it is, in fact, a thriller by pummeling us with LOUD MUSICAL STINGS. The film also has some seriously janky pacing, and with a run time of just an hour and 39 minutes, it often feels like it’s going too slow or too fast.
Jordan, along with Ray Wright, wrote the screenplay. It feels a little thin, with numerous scenes of exposition and frequently clunky dialogue. A detective played by the great Stephen Rea is introduced for one purpose, which you’ll quickly guess. If you ever wanted to know what Batman would be like as a French woman of a certain age, you’ll find out here. As written, Greta has the power to slide into the shadows, effortlessly bypass locks, and absorb punishment that would flatten Sylvester Stallone.
To get maximum entertainment out of a YIP, you need to either feel sympathetic toward the protagonist or really enjoy watching the antagonist hammer the hell out of them. Here, it’s unfortunately tilted in the latter direction. As Frances, Chloe Grace Moretz is solid, but she doesn’t have much to do other than be wholesome and terrified. Isabelle Huppert, though, is an absolute blast. She makes some truly inspired and weird choices, such as a scene where she’s literally dancing as she performs great violence. Huppert is clearly slumming, particularly after her explosive performance in Elle, but she’s the kind of entertaining actor whom you’re happy to follow.
Greta is nonsense, but it’s fairly entertaining nonsense. Another draft of the script would have fleshed out the characters, and the film works better when Jordan doesn’t lean into obvious thriller tropes and allows the characters to breathe. Still, if this film is the vanguard of a new YIP renaissance, I suppose we could do worse.
*In the world of Greta, it’s apparently impossible to block calls. Nearly two seconds of research tells me that, if you dial *77 on your landline, you can activate anonymous call blocking. If you have a pest in your life, read this to learn about blocking unwanted calls.