×

The Moth Diaries

The body count runs high at Brangwyn boarding school, but tension, surprise and viewer interest are the real casualties in this adaptation of Rachel Klein's young-adult vampire novel.

With:
Ernessa - Lily Cole
Lucy - Sarah Gadon
Rebecca - Sarah Bolger
Mr. Davies - Scott Speedman

The body count runs high at Brangwyn boarding school, but tension, surprise and viewer interest are the real casualties in “The Moth Diaries.” A commercially calculated grab for a slice of the “Twilight” pie, this adaptation of Rachel Klein’s young-adult vampire novel feels all the more disappointingly tame coming from writer-director Mary Harron, bringing none of her usual subversiveness to bear on the story’s shopworn gothic and Sapphic overtones. Title will do little to clear away the musty odor likely to cling to the film as it makes its way from an indifferent fall-fest reception into quick theatrical playoff.

Although Klein’s 2002 novel predated the very different “Twilight” books by three years, this late-to-the-party entry seeks to capitalize on the teen bloodsucker phenomenon that sprang up in the wake of Stephenie Meyer’s enormously popular franchise. Given the psychosexual edge that has informed her previous films, particularly “American Psycho,” Harron would seem a smart choice for a tale that treats vampirism as a metaphor for codependent relationships and adolescent carnal initiation. But the result lacks not only suspense and subtext, but also any genre-savvy awareness of how conventional it will seem to its target audience.

In lieu of the novel’s first-person diary structure, Harron’s first solo script uses voiceover narration to enter the mind of Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), a 16-year-old student at Brangwyn, an elite all-girls school secluded in some unspecified countryside (pic was shot in Ireland). Reasonably well adjusted after her father, a well-regarded poet, committed suicide a few years ago, Rebecca leans heavily on the support of best friend Lucy (Sarah Gadon), one of the few Brangwyn girls who isn’t there as a result of some past trouble or trauma.

So Rebecca isn’t too happy when raven-haired new girl Ernessa Bloch (Lily Cole) turns up, latches onto Lucy and begins to squeeze our heroine out. Soon other girls are dying or getting expelled — the token Asian (“Juno’s” Valerie Tian) is the first to go, followed by others in grislier fashion — at which point Rebecca rather quickly concludes Ernessa must be a vampire, not unlike the one in Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” the novella she’s conveniently been assigned to read by her hunky literature professor (Scott Speedman).

Granted, Ernessa makes it easy for Rebecca and the audience to deduce the truth, and not just because she likes to walk the grounds at night while gazing suggestively up at her classmates’ windows. Even without the black-and-white 1907-set flashbacks that spoil the mystery at a ridiculously early juncture, Cole’s frozen-stiff manner, deathly pale complexion and severely downward-slanting eyebrows would give the game away; she’d probably wear a sign saying “I am undead” if it didn’t violate Brangwyn’s dress code or the film’s generally humorless spirit.

Themes of female bonding, jealousy and smothering possessiveness are dramatized with the same lack of passion that attends the one briefly glimpsed instance of girl-on-girl action. “The Moth Diaries” has no desire to offend, and to that end, it seems to go out of its way not to raise shivers, even in a blood-soaked hallucination that tackily invokes Brian De Palma’s mean-girls horror classic, “Carrie.”

Carrying the proceedings effectively enough, Bolger remains an appealing, emotionally persuasive screen presence, aside from one scene that calls for her to weep and wail in too-obvious fashion; supporting thesps are OK but straitjacketed by pointless or one-dimensional roles. Color-saturated flashbacks to happier times further diminish the impact of the atmosphere-free lensing and production design.

Popular on Variety

The Moth Diaries

Canada-Ireland

Production: An Alliance Films and Edward R. Pressman presentation of a Mediamax/Samson Films co-production in association with Strada Films and Lionsgate U.K. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Karine Martin, David Collins. Executive producers, Sandra Cunningham, Pressman, Mark Slone, Jean-Francois Doray, Louis-Simon Menard, Norton Herrick, Zygi Kamasa, Jon Katz. Directed, written by Mary Harron, based on the novel by Rachel Klein.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Declan Quinn; editor, Andrew Marcus; music, Lesley Barber; music supervisors, Abbie Lister, Karen Elliott; production designer, Sylvain Gingras; costume designer, Nicoletta Massone; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Patrick Drummond; special effects, Ryal Cosgrove; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), Simon Poudrette; supervising sound editor/sound designer, Patrick Drummond; re-recording mixers, John Fitzgerald, Garret Farrell; visual effects, Windmill Lane; second unit director, John C. Walsh; second unit camera, Greg Middleton. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 6, 2011. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Special Presentations.) Running time: 83 MIN.

With: Ernessa - Lily Cole
Lucy - Sarah Gadon
Rebecca - Sarah Bolger
Mr. Davies - Scott SpeedmanWith: Judy Parfitt, Melissa Farman, Laurence Hamelin, Gia Sandhu, Valerie Tian. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Rita And Tom Hanks Coronavirus

    Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Return to U.S. After Coronavirus Diagnosis in Australia

    Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are back home in the U.S. after they revealed they had contracted coronavirus and were quarantined in Australia. Hanks gave an update on Twitter Saturday morning, thanking everyone who had helped them in Australia and assuring people that they are still isolating themselves in the U.S. “Hey, folks…We’re home now [...]

  • Film Comment Magazine Goes on Hiatus

    Film Comment Magazine to Go on Hiatus as Film at Lincoln Center Lays Off Half of Staff

    Many companies are being financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the Film at Lincoln Center is the latest organization to have to lay off employees and pause some of their operations. On Friday, executive director Lesli Klainberg released a memo announcing that the center had to furlough or lay off about half of its [...]

  • "Birds of Prey" egg sandwich

    'Birds of Prey' Actor Bruno Oliver Recreates Harley Quinn's Famous Sandwich

    When actor Bruno Oliver booked the role of short order cook Sal in “Birds of Prey: (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn),” he had no idea how significant Sal and his breakfast sandwich were to the story. “You couldn’t tell from the audition necessarily and as actors, we always worry about our scenes [...]

  • Minyan

    'Minyan': Film Review

    Best known for the unexpectedly soul-shattering San Francisco suicide doc “The Bridge,” indie filmmaker Eric Steel came out and came of age in 1980s New York at a moment just before AIDS devastated the city’s gay community. Such timing must have been surreal, to assume something so liberating about one’s own identity, only to watch [...]

  • Animated Movie 'The Queen's Corgi' Fetches

    Film New Roundup: Animated Movie 'The Queen's Corgi' Fetches North American Distribution

    In today’s film news roundup, “The Queen’s Corgi” finds a home, the Overlook Film Festival is postponed and the California Film Commission adjusts its tax credit rules due to the coronavirus. ACQUISITION Freestyle Digital Media has acquired North American rights to the animated family comedy feature “The Queen’s Corgi,” and plans to make it available on DVD and to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content