Stalker-thriller ‘Greta’ has class

Chloe Grace Moretz (foreground) and Isabelle Huppert star in the thriller “Greta.” Focus Features via AP

Imagine you’re a 20-something living in New York City and you spot a particularly nice green leather handbag on the subway. Do you report it to the MTA? Ignore it and move on? Claim it and its contents for yourself? Return to the owner?

For Chloe Grace Moretz’s Frances, a wide-eyed transplant to the big city, it’s obvious: You go alone to hand-deliver the bag to Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert), who, according to the identification card you find, is a tiny, nice-looking woman in her 60s. This is the first of many mistakes Frances makes in writer and director Neil Jordan’s stylish and knowingly over-the-top “Greta.”

The film starts out like a rom-com, introducing sweet Frances working in a fancy Manhattan restaurant and riding the train alone back to the spacious apartment she shares with her roommate Erica (Maika Monroe), a wealthy party girl with more street savvy than Frances. Erica suggests they take the cash in the purse and use it for colonics. But Frances, who recently lost her own mother, wants to do the right thing and before you know it, she and Greta are fast friends. They take walks in the city, have long talks about life over homemade meals and red wine, and even adopt a dog for Greta. It’s only when Frances stumbles on something that frightens her that things get bad.

Greta, a widow and mother to an estranged daughter, lives in an old city house inside which lives a cozy, but decaying mishmash of elegant vintage wares, from threadbare rugs to black-and-white photos in dusty silver frames that should belong to a 95-year-old.

It’s a not so subtle metaphor for the societal invisibility of the aging woman and a theme of this otherwise berserk but enjoyable film.

Huppert fully leans into Greta’s insanity and helps elevate the film from its self-consciously B-movie roots to be something that’s actually pretty good. Her descent into madness is truly delightful to watch, and she’s very good at making you think up to the very last minute that maybe Frances really is overreacting. What threat could a 65-year-old classical music-loving waif in gloves and tweed really pose?

Moretz is solid as Frances, and it’s nice to see her play someone earnest for once. She seems to have gotten into a little bit of a typecasting rut as jaded mean girls.

Don’t go into this expecting some feminist treatise though. “Greta” is about as retrograde as you can get, but accepting that, it’s also tremendously silly and kind of a blast.

* “Greta,” a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for some violence and disturbing images.” Running time: 98 minutes. Three stars out of four.

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