Stars: Sarah Bolger, Sarah Gadon, Lily Cole, Valerie Tian, Melissa Farman, Laurence Hamelin, Gia Sandhu | Written and Directed by Mary Harron
At an exclusive girls’ boarding school, a sixteen-year-old girl records her most intimate thoughts in a diary. The object of her obsession is her room-mate, Lucy Blake, and Lucy’s friendship with their new and disturbing classmate. Ernessa is a mysterious presence with pale skin and hypnotic eyes. When Rebecca’s concerns about the new student’s motives are dismissed as jealousy by Lucy, a chance reading of a gothic novel triggers the belief in Rebecca that Ernessa may in fact be a vampire and is trying to steal her friend’s life force. When staff and pupils at the school suddenly begin to suffer a series of deadly freak accidents, Rebecca decides to uncover the truth about Ernessa once and for all: Is she really a vampire? Or is the Rebecca trapped in her own fevered imagination?
A gothic romantic horror featuring a bunch of teens in a boarding school, The Moth Diaries is the second literary adaptation (this time from the novel by Rachel Klein) for writer/director Mary Harron yet, given that her previous work includes I Shot Andy Warhol, The Notorious Bettie Page and American Psycho, this film – with its Twilight-esqe overtones – it is seemingly out of place in Harron’s oeuvre. But much like American Psycho before it, Harron manages to make more of the source material, exploring much more of the ideas around sexuality, isolation, impending adulthood, and even teen suicide. However not even the hand of Harron could save the film from a whopping two-year release delay, having debuted at the Venice and Toronto film festivals in 2011…
It’s not hard to see why The Moth Diaries has now (finally) been released here in Blighty. After all the Twilight saga is over and it seems the tween market is still clamouring for anything vampire related and this film is seemingly made to fill that gap, even if it does take a different tack on the “vampire” mythology – much more in line with the Eastern European idea of the lifeforce-sucking Upyr (as seen in the Netflix exclusive series Hemlock Grove) than Bram Stoker’s more famous fanged foes.
Acting-wise the core triumvirate of Sarah Bolger, Sarah Gadon and Lily Cole are uniformally excellent. Cole a particular delight as the other-worldly Ernessa, whilst Bolger, already having made a name for herself as Mary Tudor in the Showtime series The Tudors, gives a brilliant performance as Rebecca – truly selling the idea of a teen on the edge, broken by the loss of her father, and now her best friend (and quasi-lesbian crush) Lucy to Cole’s seductive Ernessa.
Thankfully Harron matches the great performances (and bleak story) with some stunning visual set-pieces that range from the astonishing – Ernessa showered in blood – to the sublime. Yet for all the good Harron and her cast bring to the table The Moth Diaries still amounts to little more than an unremarkable teen-friendly Byzantium clone that will disappoint many outside of its tween-girl target audience.
The Moth Diaries is released on DVD on Monday September 16th courtesy of Lionsgate UK.