Poisoned Milk

Unlikely friendship turns sour in Neil Jordan’s new thriller

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Isabelle Huppert plays a widow with something to hide in ‘Greta.’

New in New York, poor, callow Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) is just out of Smith College and devastated by her mother’s untimely death, when she finds a green leather purse on the MTA. Her idle-rich housemate (Maika Monroe) chides her for retrieving it when it could have been a bomb, but inside there’s identification.

The purse’s owner, Greta, lives deep in Brooklyn in a strange, forlorn brick house, enclosed from the street; the lady is a lonely woman who loves playing the piano. Frances befriends Greta, but during a candlelight dinner at her place, discovers something that points to Greta’s unstable mental state.

The young girl tries her best to drop her new friend, but Greta won’t go. She fills Frances’ cell phone with messages and shows up at the pretentious uptown restaurant where the younger girl works as a waitress. You’ll be flabbergasted to learn that the police can do nothing.

Like the Chopin and Liszt performed during the course of Greta, the film is well-played, invigorating, full of sentimental associations and a bit overfamiliar. When the end game arrives, it’s a satisfactory homage to a more genteel age of thrills. Greta is a civilized tale except for one ludicrously shocking scene, made to be greeted with a little pleasurable retching.

Pushing 70, Neil Jordan (Interview with a Vampire and the perhaps even better vampire flick Byzantium) knows all the moves. This is doubly true for his diabolical star Isabelle Huppert, once again playing an obsessed, homicidal woman fit for Poe. Now in her mid-60s, Huppert is not a tall or a strong woman. The physical menace has long fled, so we take it on faith that Huppert’s Greta has the strength to take down her prey and do all the good serial-killer stuff.

What’s inarguable is the intensity of her gaze: a radiance of hypnotic evil that age sharpens rather than weakens. It’s a matter of intent and conviction. Huppert is quite convincing in the moment where she loses her temper, tosses a glass of wine and then charges at the girl who betrayed her.

Greta is not as rich in detail as it is in some of the classic gaslighters. A frowsy private detective in a sharkskin coat (the great Stephen Rea) could have added a little color and funk. The quarrel between Frances and her wealthy father could have been deepened, to explain Frances’ unusual callowness, the fissure in her that allows the needy Greta to get a handhold. While the dream sequences have their customary scares—Jordan’s an expert at them—you’ll wait in vain for a final marvellous twist.

Truth be told, we should have been by Greta’s side from the beginning, just as we were in many other previous stories of Huppert as avenger. When Greta goes absolutely dancing mad, capering as she triumphs over a victim, it seems we should have been able to share this twirl with her from the beginning.

 

‘Greta’ is playing at select theaters in the North Bay

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