The Moth Diaries is an Irish-Canadian horror film released in 2011. Written and directed by Mary Harron and based on the debut novel of Rachel Klein of the same name. I have mixed emotions about this film as I really enjoyed what the film was trying to accomplish, but I feel that the filmmakers fell short in the delivery. While I enjoy them trying to make the viewers come to their own opinion on the events in the film, the film’s writing doesn’t allow for that. So what we end up with is another film with missed potential.
The Moth Diaries follows Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) returning for her second year at an all girls boarding school. Prior to the film’s beginning Rebecca’s father commits suicide causing Rebecca to become with drawn depressed and suicidal. Her mother then sent her to the school, after meeting Lucy (Sarah Gadon) and making other friends she starts to cope with her father’s suicide and her mental condition improves. This year a new girl Ernessa (Lily Cole) moves in across the hall and the school gets a male teacher Mr. Davies (Scott Speedman), who teaches literature with a seeming focus on Gothic literature. Rebecca finds Ernessa off-putting, while Lucy seems drawn to her with the two becoming close friends. Rebecca becomes jealous of Ernessa and Lucy’s friendship forcing a wedge between Rebecca and Lucy. As the year continues Rebecca starts losing friends, either through leaving the school or becoming distant to Rebecca due to her constant jealousy of Ernessa. In Mr. Davies class they read Carmilla leading to Rebecca learning that vampires don’t need to drink blood to survive, but can feed off a lively spirit. It’s at this time that Lucy starts to get weak and thin. Rebecca believes that it’s Ernessa influence that weakening Lucy while others believe that Lucy has become anorexic. Rebecca turns to Mr. Davies for help, but he doesn’t believe her and the two kiss momentarily before Rebecca breaks the kiss and leaves. A short while later Lucy dies and Rebecca realizes that she’s been the focus for Ernessa and sets out to stop her.
Like I said I like this film in principle where we are forced to decide if Ernessa is really a vampire or if Rebecca has had a mental break. But we see along with other characters Ernessa displaying strange powers, such as her being witnessed by both Rebecca and another girl walking through a closed glass window. We also see her at the end sleeping in a coffin like trunk full of dirt like some vampire lore. While the latter can be described as hallucination since no one else see’s it. The walking through the closed window is harder for me to ignore.
The pacing and story are strong enough and some of the sub-plots work rather well. I enjoy how the question of Rebecca’s sexual orientation is subtly brought up from time to time. Such as her fixation with Lucy, when she dreams while being the look out so a friend can lose her virginity, Rebecca dreams of the sex as violent and her crush on Mr. Davies vanishing after they kiss.
This film would have worked better being less subtle with the vampirism or more so. It hits the odd balance where it obviously want’s us to go with Ernessa being a vampire, but Ernessa never comes off as either malevolent or intimidating. So the story would have also functioned better if we were left with a more ambiguous ending or if the other characters didn’t interact with Ernessa. This would have allowed for the idea that Ernessa might not of existed beyond Rebecca’s imagination.
Final thoughts, like I said I did enjoy what this film was trying to do. The acting was all good with Sarah Gordon standing out from among the pack and the pacing, while a tad slow did allow for more of the films atmosphere to bleed through and the effects were well done, if simple. But the film never does that much, sure things happen, but every thing so drawn out with much of the time devoted to Rebecca’s inner monolouing. Which works great in the written medium, but I find it often fails to translate well to the screen. So while interesting and sporadically entertaining The Moth Diaries failed to impress, 5/10.