Mary Harron is a name that excites me – professionally speaking of course. Her previous three features to this are all excellent movies, I Shot Andy Warhol, The Notorious Betty Page and of course the seminal American Psycho. For her fourth feature she adapts Rachel Klein’s 2002 novel The Moth Diaries which focuses on the vampiric shenanigans at an all-girls boarding school.
Our guide to the story is Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) who is sixteen and found herself sent to the boarding school following the death of her writer father. Her narration is present over parts of the movie as she pen’s each entry into her diary. While the start of the new term sees reacquainted friendships and a general mood of positivity, the addition of new student Ernessa (Lily Cole) seems to affect the status quo of Rebecca and her clique of friends, particularly Lucy (Sarah Gadon).
As Mr. Davies (Scott Speedman) the schools new English teacher tells the girls of Gothic novella Carmilla, the character of Ernessa almost seems like she has been uprooted from the late 19th century into this film. With Ernessa having the look (in a good way) of a character from a Tim Burton movie, coupled with weird behaviour like not eating and solitary nocturnal walks it’s not long before Rebecca and some of the girls delve deeper into her mysterious persona.
Things intensify when Rebecca and her friend witness Ernessa one evening seemingly walking through a plate glass window, then another evening when spying through her dorm room window that her room is full of hundreds of moths. With the death of the much hated (particularly by Ernessa) gym teacher Miss Bobbie (Kathleen Fee), Rebecca begins to draw similarities between the characters she’s reading about in Carmilla, and the strangeness of the mysterious Ernessa.
With a cover design that uses the exact same font as the Twilight series, it’s not hard to determine who The Moth Diaries is being pitched at. To say that it will only appeal to Twihards would be misjudged as it’s accessible to most people who would appreciate a solid yet unremarkable drama. That said, anyone expecting a film firmly rooted in the horror genre may be somewhat disappointed, as to me it came across more as a teen coming of age drama with nods to gothic literature.
The acting is good with Sarah Bolger being the stand-out actress ably supported by the intriguing Lily Cole. The cinematography meanwhile is undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of the movie, enhancing its foreboding location. Sadly though, there is just something about this film that feels deeply unsatisfying. I think it’s an amalgamation of things like its short running time giving little opportunity to flesh out certain characters. The absence of a necessary level of darkness too – it feels too PG-13 for a film and a director that have the ability of creating a far more sinister edge. For a superlative female led vampire film look no further than Byzantium. As for The Moth Diaries though, file under fangs but no fangs.
5 out of 10