Gotham filmmaker Mary Harron journeys to the Lido this week with her fourth feature, an adaptation of Rachel Klein’s 2002 bestseller “The Moth Diaries,” which preems out of competition today in Venice, just days before its Toronto Film Festival bow.
Told via journal entries, the novel is a slice of modern Gothic set at a girls’ boarding school in the 1960s.
Its 16-year-old narrator Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), devastated her father’s suicide, finds herself preoccupied by a new girl, the mysterious Ernessa (Brit supermodel Lily Cole), whom she suspects of being a vampire.
For the director, however, the genre elements were not the chief attraction.
“I was probably more taken with the theme of female friendship,” Harron said. “The book’s very clever, it uses a supernatural template to talk quite honestly about adolescence and all that teenage girls go through. When I first read the book, my older daughter was 10. She’s now 14, and a lot of her experiences — as well as my own as a parent — have fed into the film.”
“The book gives so much that I felt I could do it alone,” she said.
After Paramount passed on the project, (“I think they felt it wasn’t genre-y enough for them”) she approached Ed Pressman to exec produce.
“We’d done ‘American Psycho’ together, and I knew Ed had a great history of getting these sorts of unusual horror movies made — from ‘Sisters’ way back in the 70s, to things like ‘The Crow,’ ” Harron said. “He’s very tenacious, and when he believes in something, he’s behind you 100%. And given that it’s an almost all-girl cast of young, mostly unknowns, no stars, we knew this wouldn’t be an easy film to finance.”
Still, Harron was surprised how difficult it proved.
“By the time Ed and I started going around, ‘Twilight’ had happened, and suddenly millions of young girls are going to see these kinds of movies. So I thought, ‘Okay, there’s your market.’ But it still didn’t help.”
In the end, the Ontario-born helmer put together a Canadian-Irish co-production.
“I wanted Sarah Bolger as Rebecca, and I’d spoken to Declan Quinn about shooting it, so we already had Irish elements in place. And we got very good support from Telefilm Canada,” Harron said.
Harron penned the screenplay, her first without a collaborator. She previously worked with Guinevere Turner on “American Psycho” and “The Notorious Bettie Page,” and with Daniel Minahan on “I Shot Andy Warhol.”
Wild Bunch is handling international sales.
She’s prepared for the inevitable comparisons to the “Twilight” franchise.
“I’ve seen all the films. I mean, how could I not? With two young daughters, I was basically living in a ‘Twilight’ house,” Harron said.
“I love them, they’re great. But that story is a romance. It’s essentially a love story with supernatural overtones and so it’s wonderful for young teenage girls, because it’s edgy but also safe and reassuring.
“But ‘Moth Diaries’ is darker and a little…more Polanski, maybe? Not that I’d claim to be at that level as a filmmaker. But he’s certainly a much stronger influence.”