I make every effort possible to highlight female directors because they make up such a small output of Hollywood heavy-hitters. One of the female directors that I would consider a “name” is Mary Harron. Similar to her contemporary, Kathryn Bigelow, Harron has done a few films that are male-dominated. Harron’s big claims to fame are American Psycho and Pet Semetary; two of my favorite films of all time. With that, I’ve been meaning to see her latest effort, The Moth Diaries, for some time. Sadly, I think Fate was hoping to stop me because this movie doesn’t do Harron any favors. Based on a novel by Rachel Klein, I’m curious about how much of this movie is in the original novel. The way this shoves a supernatural drama with a tawdry lesbian romance is disturbed, and I can’t think of this being a mass-market success (I don’t have my finger on the pulse of YA lit, so I can’t be sure). The movie is a vacuous, boring affair that would only intrigue young men looking for a little light girl-on-girl action, and even then it’s not nearly that titillating.
Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) has returned to a prestigious girls boarding school after the suicide of her father. The young girl hopes to find normality with her friends, particularly her best friend Lucy (Sarah Gadon). When new girl Ernessa (Lily Cole) arrives at the school, and starts monopolizing Lucy’s time, Rebecca starts to believe Ernessa isn’t what she seems.
I knew this wasn’t a horror film, despite being labeled as such on Netflix. I didn’t, however, think this would be a turgid faux-saga about the trials and tribulations of losing your best friend…to a vampire. Yeah, this wouldn’t be a tween film without a little supernatural lore, but I was under the assumption that we’d have some ambiguity going on rather than just blatantly reveal that Ernessa is a vampire. The movie sets itself up as a mystery of debating what Ernessa is. At a certain point, I was actually excited to debate whether Rebecca really found out Ernessa is a vampire, or if Rebecca wasn’t suffering some type of psychotic break due to her losing her father, and believing she’s now lost her best friend. Nope, the movie wants us to desperately believe Ernessa is a vampire (she dresses like Wednesday Addams from the minute we’re introduced to her), and around the thirty minute mark has her walking through windows. Way to give the audiences’ brain a work-out there.
Fine, she’s a vampire, I could have worked with that too. The problem is the movie is even more boring once that’s realized. The Moth Diaries is an 82 minute movie, and at a certain point I was shocked to discover I had fifty minutes left; ten minutes feels like thirty here. On top of that, there’s plot threads that go totally unrealized, making me wonder (despite Harron writing the script) if there were last-minute changes or other tampering. Sure, Ernessa and Rebecca are meant to be connected by both their father’s deaths, but how did Ernessa become a vampire? If she’s coming for Rebecca, is it to turn her into one? What does Rebecca’s menstrual cycle have to do with anything? That actually is one of several moments where a character mentions something, and the audience believes it will tie into the narrative. Rebecca complains about her cramps, wakes up in an unusually large pool of blood, walks around, discovers Lucy and Ernessa in the throes of passion/vampire biting, then goes back to sleep! That’s a ten minute sequence that amounts to nothing. Why bring up her cramps if they’re not connected to the vampire storyline. It becomes headache inducing because characters just get up with a plan in mind, then get distracted by something shiny. The girls of the school, including Rebecca, make a plan to go see where Ernessa walks to at night. They all show up, in nightgowns because I guess they thought pants were too conspicious, and after walking about three feet they complain about the cold and go home! Later on, when they continue to question Ernessa’s behavior, not one of them says “Hey, why didn’t we actually go look for her?” It’s sloppy storytelling, and it continues for so long I stopped believing anything the characters said or did.
The acting is actually good which makes this all the sadder. I wouldn’t say any of these actors would win an award for their performances, but they’re better than many in the tween genre. I’ve liked Sarah Bolger since she appeared on The Tudors, and she does imbue Rebecca with emotion; or as much emotion as the script allows her. Unfortunately, the thin script keeps her perpetually melancholy, binding her to looking sullen for 82 minutes. Lily Cole revels in being the malevolently evil, but she’s similarly constrained into being the quiet villain who (in a better movie) shouldn’t have to speak to convey her evil. Sadly, she needs dialogue and a proper character to be able to pull that off, none of which is evident here.
The Moth Diaries is so afraid of making the audience work, that it feels content to outright steal from better books. Dracula is an obvious connection here (Rebecca’s best friend is named Lucy after all), and the book taught in Rebecca’s Gothic lit class is Carmilla. Can I say, it’s only in snooty, movie prep schools that a Goth lit class can be taught. My local high school was lucky to teach Jane Eyre! The vampire story has been done far better in those other two books. Harron and crew think that by adding a lesbian subtext that it’s edgy when it’s really not. And of course, they have to have this subplot taught by the “sexy” English teacher played by Scott Speedman. I had to laugh as he started detailing the tropes of vampire/werewolf lit. I was waiting with bated breath for him to mention Kate Beckinsale is usually a staple of those genres.
I was left disappointed and unfulfilled by The Moth Diaries. Harron has the ability to create edgy films that aren’t afraid of the taboo, but The Moth Diaries is obsessed with playing it safe, to the point that the audience is dying of boredom. It’s a skip for me.