The Moth Diaries (2011)
(15) Running time: 79 minutes
Director: Mary Harron
Writers: Rachel Klein, Mary Harron
Cast: Sarah Bolger, Lily Cole, Sarah Gadon, Scott Speedman
Reviewed by Matt Wavish
Based on the novel by Rachel Klein, The Moth Diaries is a teen Gothic drama full of jealousy, friendship issues and vampires (sort of). The trailer had me intrigued as it was cleverly designed to show some pretty exciting stuff, and had a sexy kinda darkness about it, and while the film lived up to its sexy Gothic promise in parts, sadly The Moth Diaries was not meant for me.
Sure, this tale of an outsider coming to an all girls boarding school will have plenty of appeal to teens, and the novel itself is very well respected, but the film feels like it has missed its target audience. The film is too nice and safe for the more mature audience, and I feel teens (the natural target market) would find it a little boring. The film contains a lot of dialogue with the odd piece of horror, but the dialogue feels so empty, staged and forced it rarely has the desired effect. Had the film taken a much darker approach and gone for a more mature tone, it just might have passed as a well made arthouse Gothic horror, but instead we are presented with a relatively weak film with fairly dull characters and a very slow pace.
The films story IS interesting as quiet, shy loner Ernessa (Cole) attends an all girls boarding school and immediately causes a disturbance in the friendship between Rebecca (Bolger) and Lucy (Gadon). Rebecca is the heart of the story, and since her Father’s suicide, has written her inner most secrets in a diary. She opens up on the pages, and often narrates the story, and talks about her feelings throughout the film. She has a slightly unhinged obsession with her best friend Lucy, but when Ernessa begins making friends with Lucy, and Lucy spends less and less time with Rebecca, things turn slightly sour. Rebecca begins to suspect that all is not normal with Ernessa, and in the meantime begins falling for her teacher Mr Davies (Speedman). Mr Davies is teaching the girls about the Dracula story, and talks a lot about vampires, something which Rebecca believes Ernessa might be.
Rebecca’s suspicions lead to her becoming very obsessive with proving there is something wrong with Ernessa, and things begin to spiral out of control. Rebecca’s jealousy blinds her with a passion for showing everyone what Ernessa really is, and with this comes bad things and eventually a number of deaths.
The Moth Diaries sets up nicely, and the boarding school setting allows for a claustrophobic atmosphere which is very Gothic in tone, and actually rather rewarding to see. The school allows for plenty of darkened corridors and the odd night-time scene in the surrounding woods, and the cinematography and design of the film really can’t be faulted. The “is she or isn’t she a vampire” mystery is handled quite well, although the answer to the question is made painfully obvious a number of times, but it is a mystery that is easy to get caught up in. The film is not scary in the slightest, but does have some effective atmosphere and a general sense of darkness about it. The lack of bright colours gives the film a rather cold feel too, and this serves nicely to the story. The production here is very impressive, but the film is let down by a problem with pacing, acting and delivery.
The pacing is often too slow, and with barely any music to lift the momentum, the slow parts (and there are many) really drag. This is not helped by a script which may have sounded interesting on paper, but is sadly not delivered by the films rather good looking cast. Long pauses, a lack of emotion and an almost school Christmas play-like feel to the delivery of the dialogue really doesn’t help matters. You could argue that this was done for effect, to maybe give off a dream-like feel, but the dialogue really struggles, and the normally very talented actresses seem to be having a hard time producing their lines. The film has barely any tension, and just kind of drifts in and out of scenes as and when it feels like it.
The Moth Diaries does have its merits though, and as I said the production, look and design of the film is impressive. As a teen coming of age drama, this just might work, and will probably connect with teenage girls much more than it did with me. However, marketing the film kind of as a mild horror is not doing this film any favours. When the horror does come, it is fairly weak, and the horror based ending feels rushed and a little silly. However, if the lads are looking for a good reason to watch this, then surely seeing very attractive actresses in their twenties spending the majority of the film in school uniforms is a very appealing selling point!
This film is not all that bad, and oddly has left a lasting impression on me. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but The Moth Diaries has kinda stuck with me, for reasons unknown. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either: it was an above average tale of friendship, obsession and maybe vampires, told through the eyes of a troubled young girl. The Gothic atmosphere really won me over, so I guess this can be recommended to those who enjoy slow, brooding films with plenty of atmosphere. This is a mixed bag really: difficult to recommend, hard to dislike, but just not quite good enough to win me over.