Isabelle Huppert (left) has something sinister in mind for Chloe Grace Moretz in “Greta.” (Focus Features)

Isabelle Huppert (left) has something sinister in mind for Chloe Grace Moretz in “Greta.” (Focus Features)

Talented cast and director can carry ‘Greta’ only so far

Director Neil Jordan and star Isabelle Huppert conjure up weirdness before the movie comes undone.

Neil Jordan’s new horror film “Greta” cracks in two at the halfway mark: The first part is an eerie slow build, the second is wall-shaking hysteria.

Neither part entirely works. But there are enough stylish, bizarre touches along the way to at least qualify the film for future cult status.

Our central character is Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz), a naïve young woman working as a waitress in New York City. When she finds a nice purse left behind on the subway one day, she dutifully returns it to its owner, an apparently genteel Frenchwoman named Greta (Isabelle Huppert).

Greta, a widowed piano teacher, seems eager to teach Frances new things. And Frances really needs a friend.

This pleasant set-up is instantly mocked by Frances’s cynical roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe, from “It Follows” and “The Guest”), who is certain there’s something screwy about this friendship.

Now, wouldn’t it be interesting to have a movie where the cynic is proved wrong, and where Frances and her older friend team up to, I don’t know, fight vampires in Manhattan or something?

But no — the roommate is right, and the delicate-looking Greta turns out to be a full-on stalker with homicidal tendencies. Cue the crashing orchestral jump-scares and deeply unlikely plot twists.

Because Jordan is a talented director — in better days, he did “The Crying Game” and “Interview with the Vampire” — there are scenes that come alive. His films are modern fairy tales, and the world of “Greta” has a vaguely magical, sealed-off quality. Greta’s home is apparently just off a busy New York street, yet it feels as though it could be an isolated witch’s lair in the forest.

Huppert is one of the world’s great actresses (recently Oscar-nominated for “Elle”), and around the edges of the heavy-breathing plot she manages to create a few memorable moments. She gets better as Greta gets wilder, whether dancing around in her stocking feet while preparing to stab somebody with a hypodermic needle or uttering mysterious foreign phrases for maximum creepiness.

Moretz is capable as the trusting heroine, although her character is required to do the usual dumb things that keep a horror movie going. Because things go so far over the top, there were times when I suspected Jordan was parodying the horror genre — but the movie doesn’t fully commit to that.

So: A mixed bag, and a disappointment coming from talented people. But the cult-movie stuff is ready to be discovered: chewing gum stuck in Frances’ hair, a severed finger and Greta’s declaration, “People have to stop treating me like this!” That’s a classic stalker’s lament, delivered with scary conviction.

“Greta” (2½ stars)

A mess of a thriller, with innocent Chloe Grace Moretz being stalked by Isabelle Huppert. Those two actresses are more than capable and director Neil Jordan gets some fairy-tale weirdness going, but the stock situations and jump-scares feel overdone.

Rating: R, for violence

Opening: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

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