This is director Neil Jordan’s first cinema film since Byzantium in 2012. It is a bit of a genre bender in that while it is a standard stalker set up, in which, as is often the case, the victim is a pretty young woman, both the stalker and the rescuer, who often doubles as the victim’s male romantic interest, are also female. Not that a female stalker is a totally new idea. Remember Fatal Attraction. In this though there is no romantic or sexual element at all.
Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz), newly arrived in New York, finds an expensive handbag on the subway and returns it to its owner Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an apparently lonely, widowed piano teacher and they become friends.
Frances’s faith in her new friend is however shaken when she opens a cupboard and finds it full of identical handbags with various women’s names on them. And what about those noises from behind the wall, that Greta blocks out with a spirited rendering of a bit of Chopin on the piano? Are they really noisy neighbours who have the builders in or something more sinister?
The two leads give first class performances. Moretz is not only very pretty but a good actress and she has us rooting for her. Huppert as the stalker gets scarier as the film progresses with her stare getting chillier and her lips seeming to get thinner. The significant third character is Maika Monroe as Frances’s initially rather annoying flatmate, who later redeems herself.
The film has some good shock moments – one of the more original ones is when Greta unexpectedly spits chewing gum into her prey’s hair – and there are plenty of others which are more violent and bloody, while an effective device used to up the chill is Greta’s devotion to Chopin and Beethoven piano sonatas, which in the context take on a somewhat sinister air.
The characterisations though are a bit thin. The only indication as to why Frances gets drawn so easily into the older woman’s net is that she is mourning the recent loss of her mother. And we get little information about Greta’s history as a psychopath apart from a reference to the fact that she has been in a mental health facility and that she was once locked in a box as a child. Undeterred by her lack of back story however Huppert just throws herself right into the role up to the hilt.
Some of the plotting is a bit puzzling too, as when Greta attacks Frances in the smart restaurant where she works. She is taken away by the police in a strait jacket but then pops up again free as air with no explanation as to why she has been let go. She also appears to have access to the apartment where the girls live, again we know not how. And how, one wonders, when she is looking for her next victim, can she guarantee that the finder of handbag will always be a woman? And come to that, why is she only interested in terrorising young women?
Such questions will have to remain unanswered. The film does though pass the Bechdel test with flying colours in that the women talk about men not one jot and in fact the male characters hardly get a look in – Colm Feore as Frances’s largely absent father and Jordan’s oft cast colleague Stephen Rea, who pops up near the end as a not terribly effective private investigator.
As a thriller the film delivers the shocks efficiently but it is somewhat superficial. A bit of a disappointing potboiler, coming from this director, when you remember the imaginative creativity of Jordan’s earlier films such as Company of Wolves, Mona Lisa and The Crying Game.