Mary Harron, director of such gripping and darkly funny films as American Psycho, I Shot AndyWarhol, and the surprisingly great The Notorious Bettie Page, delivers her first new film since 2005 with The Moth Diaries. This is a “vampire” film with very little bite, yet there is some blood flowing through this creature's veins.
Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) is a sixteen-year-old student at a rather fancy, and old fashioned religious girl’s school. She’s popular and life seems good until Ernessa (Lily Cole) arrives and steals the attentions of Rebecca’s roommate and best friend, Lucie (Sarah Gadon). Rebecca soon begins to resent Lucie and becomes jealous and concerned about Ernessa… because she thinks she may be a vampire!
The plot fuses elements of two vampire staples, Dracula and Carmilla , and tries to bring them into the modern world with mixed results. Based on the novel of the same name, Harron's adaptation of The Moth Diaries is fairly anemic and doesn't have the courage of its convictions. For a story that is blatantly a teenage sapphic fever dream, there is very little addressed sexually and I'm surprised that the subtext is not just there out front. However, she should be commended for a solid directing job. The film is visually quite beautiful, watch out for the scene in the library with Rebecca.
Some great performances from Judy Parfitt as the headmistress and Sarah Bolger as Rebecca are to be had. Unfortunately, Lily Cole, the British model turned actress who plays Ernessa, is as lively as the Victorian doll she resembles. She’s all wide eyes and scary eyebrows, but not much more. Scott Speedman seems to be around only to help spur Rebecca's paranoia and sexuality, but his presence is hardly necessary because his character is one of the key problems with the script. In the end, he just isn't necessary.
IFC films has released The Moth Diaries in a nice looking presentation. The cold cinematography is presented sharply, with Harron’s inspired visuals, and thankfully sparing use of CGI are rendered nicely. The dialogue did seem to be mixed a bit low, but that could just be because some characters speak quietly for a lot of the film. You may need to ride the remote with this one. Extras are limited to some behind the scenes video diaries, a making of featurette, and a trailer. It would have been nice to hear Harron on making the film, but you get some of her in the video portions. She’s intelligent and witty, as one would expect, and it’s worth checking out.
The Moth Diaries is equally entertaining and frustrating, but Harron is clearly a talent of note. The film is surprisingly well acted for the most part and for all of its flaws, it’s a welcome entry into the teenage horror/romance canon.