The Moth Diaries
Directed by: Mary Harron.
Written by: Mary Harron based on the novel by Rachel Klein.
Starring: Sarah Bolger (Rebecca), Lily Cole (Ernessa), Sarah Gadon (Lucie), Scott Speedman (Mr. Davies), Anne Day-Jones (Rebecca's mother), Valerie Tian (Charlie), Melissa Farman (Dora), Judy Parfitt (Miss Rood).
You would be forgiven for thinking that a teenage, lesbian, vampire film from Mary Harron, director of American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page would be, at the very least, an overheated guilty pleasure, and perhaps something more. Harron is a talented director, who put a feminist spin Brett Easton Ellis infamous book about Patrick Bateman, and made an insightful film about the famed 1950s pinup model. Both of those films work on a few levels – on the surface, American Psycho is an ultra-violent exploitation film, but there is more going on beneath the surface. The Notorious Bettie Page looks at both the eroticism and ridiculousness of porn – how something so silly to the people involved can be taken so seriously by others. Because both of those films are so good, it makes The Moth Diaries all the more disappointing. I’m sure that the movie got green lit at least in part because of the Twilight phenomenon – but that doesn’t mean Harron has to get her teenage protagonists to stare at each other with the same blank look at the Twilight stars do.
The movie takes place at an all-girls boarding school. Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) has been going there for a few years now – ever since her poet father committed suicide – and has become best friends with Lucie (Sarah Gadon). With a new year upon them, they are looking forward to picking up where they left off last year – as inseparable best friends. But there is a new girl on campus – Ernessa (Lily Cole), who is thin and pale and quiet. She always seems to be whispering something in Lucie's ear – and Lucie has starting withdrawing from Rebecca. And of course, Rebecca is taking a literature course right now concentrating on vampire fiction, with the hot new teacher Mr. Davies (Scott Speedman), who may admire Rebecca a little too much.
I have a feeling Harron, who also wrote this adaptation of Rachel Klein’s novel, wanted to thwart the expectations of audiences who got excited when they heard it was a teenage, lesbian, vampire, boarding school film – hell that sounds like it should be a fun exploitation movie. But Harron takes the material seriously – too seriously. This is a movie where female hormones are flying, or at least should be, but Harron, instead of trying to exploit this, decides to push it too far in the background. It’s hard to blame her – adding a different perspective than anyone was expecting helped make American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page as good as they were. But stripped of those raging, female hormones – the casual, flirtatious relationship between the girls, the way they talk about Mr. Davies, and some of their sexual experiences with boys from a nearby school – the movie seems rather toothless. This is a coming of age film that is at least in part about sexual awakening – and devoid of passion, sexual awakening is rather dull. I understand why there is very little of the violence we would expect in a vampire film, because it is after all told from Rebecca’s point of view and she is not Ernessa’s initial target. But that also takes away some of the mixture of sex and death that make vampire films what they are.
Harron is an immensely talented filmmaker – and I will look forward to whatever she does next. I appreciate that she tried to provide an antidote to the Twilight films in her teenage vampire film, but there is such a thing as trying too hard – and that is what she does here. She wants to defy out expectations – and that she does. But that is not always a good thing