The Moth Diaries

Mary Harron, 2011

Now here’s one that had ‘hidden gem’ written all over it. A darker, R-rated take on the teen vampire story adapted from a well-regarded novel by the director of American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page, one that’s a little less Twilight and a little more Let The Right One In. Eschewing the standard immortal boy-crush pangs for a more complex lesbian subtext while dealing with the repercussions of suicide and feelings of betrayal, on paper there’s a lot going for it. And sadly that’s where a lot of it ends.

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Fittingly enough, a UK release seems to have been mothballed.

Rebecca (Sarah Bolger, In America) is adjusting to life in her boarding school while attempting to come to terms with her father’s suicide. She’s given invaluable support by her closest friend Lucy (Sarah Gadon, A Dangerous Method) until enigmatic new girl Ernessa (Lily Cole, Snow White and the Huntsman) enters their lives. With the once-best friends beginning to drift further apart as life at the school slowly becomes more and more surreal, Rebecca begins to suspect there may be more sinister motives at play. Could this strange girl who looks, acts and glares like a creepy immortal actually be one?

It’s hard to shake the feeling that somewhere along the way, something went very wrong with this whole project. While I’m typically a fan of brevity in films, the running time of 82 mins set alarm bells ringing for what seems intended to be a psychological slow-burner. Perhaps a longer cut ended up too dark for its intended audience or just didn’t work at all, but whatever the reason, it’s got that ‘hatchet-job’ feel to it where a studio exec somewhere panicked and cut the thing into some kind of shape to just rush it out the door.

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Today’s lesson in Metaphor 101: the most obvious reference imaginable.

Whatever the reason, the pacing feels all over the place, somehow managing to feel too brief and interminable at the same time. Characters are written off with abandon in a series of events that should be shocking but have little resonance once they’re dispatched with. Rebecca’s never seems to have time to process anything, jumping from setback to tragedy in a purely reactive way that never allows the audience to really get inside her head. At its worst, it can feel like a whole lot of nothing that just keeps ticking through the beats of its plot like it’s working through a checklist. Tonally it’s similarly problematic, veering between bizarrely coy and intense, with occasional flashes of suicide trigger imagery that feel like they come from another film entirely.

The film’s one real success is thanks to living special effect Lily Cole, who lends the part of Ernessa an ethereal and otherworldly quality with her naturally disarming presence. She’s perfect for this kind of role, making for some wonderfully haunting scenes where you think everything is finally going to come together before it all blows over again and you’re left with characters with little to define them wandering through a story it’s hard to care about. She’s a large part of the reason the film engages so much at first but proves increasingly frustrating as you realise it’s never going to really come together.

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Creeping things up admirably.

This is a disappointing piece of work from genuine talents who should (and have, previously) come up with something a lot better. Whatever the story behind its development, we’re left with a fitful patchwork of a film that manages to outstay even its brief running time. I’d hold out hope that there’s a longer cut out there somewhere that makes more sense of the material, but the way this one has been buried away with a dead-end release makes the chances of such a thing appearing slim in the extreme. Not a total loss, but a regrettable one.

 

2 Stars - Passable

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