Neil Jordan's thriller Greta pits Chloe Grace Moretz against Isabelle Huppert
THE kindness of a good Samaritan is ruthlessly exploited by an unlikely predator in Neil Jordan's campy psychological thriller.
Co-written by the Oscar-winning Irish director and Ray Wright, Greta harks back to the violent power struggles of 1990s potboilers The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and Single White Female as a 20-something American waitress and a sexagenarian French piano teacher lock horns on the mean streets of New York.
Academy Award nominee Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz are handsomely matched as hunter and prey, investing underwritten roles with menace and tainted innocence as cogs of a linear plot slot into place.
Their performances energise and enthral in the absence of originality, which is abducted before first blood can be spilt.
The belated introduction of Stephen Rea as a nosy private investigator threatens to spark dramatic tension but he is merely a plot device to underscore the darkness that lurks behind the title character's beatific smile.
London-born actress Zawe Ashton suffers a similarly ignominious fate as a young woman with valuable information about Greta's twisted past that might as well be accompanied with crashing cymbals.
Frances McCullen (Moretz) lives with best friend Erica (Maika Monroe) in the Big Apple, where she works as a waitress in an upmarket restaurant.
The 20-something bears the scars of the recent loss of her mother and is struggling to connect with her workaholic father (Colm Feore).
On her way home, Frances discovers a swanky handbag on a subway train and inside is the NYC Identification Card of Greta Hideg (Huppert).
Erica brazenly suggests they steal money from inside the purse and spend it on a spa treatment but Frances is determined to return the handbag and its contents.
"This city is gonna eat you alive!" despairs Erica.
Greta is delighted to be reunited with her missing property and she strikes up a touching friendship with Frances, who is moved by the older woman's solitary existence.
"I've been so lonely since my daughter left," laments Greta.
The relationship sours when Frances discovers that Greta intentionally leaves handbags on subway trains to engineer relationships with strangers.
Frances cuts Greta out of her life but the piano teacher stalks the younger woman at her workplace and home.
"The crazier they are, the harder they cling," warns Erica.
Greta is elevated by the nuanced interplay of the leads, who are subjected to a rollercoaster of emotions from dizzying incomprehension to seething fury.
Pacing idles predominantly in first gear, delaying inevitable retribution with some questionable logic involving a mobile phone.
The claustrophobic final showdown, replete with predictable sleight of hand, doesn't quite land with a satisfying emotional thud or rush of adrenaline that the scriptwriters promise.
GRETA (15, 99 mins)
Thriller. Chloe Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea, Colm Feore, Zawe Ashton. Director: Neil Jordan.