Rewind Review: 2012’s ‘The Moth Diaries’

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Whenever the conversation turns to prominent female Horror movie directors, Mary Harron is always near the top of the list.   Harron made waves and shattered stereotypes when she directed American Psycho in the late 1990’s. True, her appointment was a calculated tactic on the part of the film’s producers who sought to counter the misogynistic reputation of the source material.  Nonetheless, Harron came through with a fiercely disturbing final product, one that never felt watered down or sanitized. Most aficionados marveled at the way she directed Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, displaying an uncanny insight into the darkest aspects of the male psyche.

Harron’s most recent directorial effort, 2012’s The Moth Diaries, can almost be regarded as a foil to American Psycho. In a film overflowing with feminine mystique, Harron shows she is just as keenly in tune with complex emotional landscape of adolescent female teens.  The Moth Diaries is based on Rachel Klein’s 2002 novel of the same name.

Check out my review after the jump.

Official Synopsis:  At an exclusive girls’ boarding school, a sixteen-year-old girl records her most intimate thoughts in a diary. The object of her growing obsession is her roommate, Lucy Blake, and Lucy’s friendship with their new and disturbing classmate. Ernessa is a mysterious, moody presence with pale skin and hypnotic eyes. Around her swirl dark rumors, suspicions, and secrets as well as a series of ominous disasters. As fear spreads through the school, fantasy and reality mingle. What is true and what is dreamed bleed together into a waking nightmare of gothic menace, fueled by the anxieties, lusts, and fears of adolescence.

Sarah Bolger plays Rebecca, the film’s narrator and writer of the diary referenced in the title.  She’s a teenager with a rocky past and an uncertain future. As the main character in The Moth Diaries, she is compelling and complex, skillfully emoting confusion, jealousy, depression—and even desperation.  It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the film represents life as recorded in her diary, her personal recollections of people and events, which may be accurate or tempered by her volatile emotional state.  When seemingly supernatural events occur, it’s important to ask ourselves if these events are real—or merely real to Rebecca.

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Lily Cole is absolutely arresting as the ominous new-girl Ernessa Bloch.  She’s got an unusual, almost bizarre beauty, like some alien-porcelain doll hybrid, that is absolutely captivating.  Cole shows remarkable restraint in her portrayal; always hypnotic and otherworldly, slightly freakish but never cartoonish.  The Moth Diaries is also well served by a supporting cast that is talented all around (specifically the pot-smoking school girls). Scott Speedman is perhaps the only weak-point on the roster as the cute but lecherous Gothic Literature instructor Mr. Davies.  Of course, The Moth Diaries is almost completely devoid of male energy—which makes him stick out like a sore thumb.

The Moth Diaries dances on the boarder of fantasy and reality.  Themes of Gothic literature, specifically the fear of female sexuality, are intertwined amid discussions of vampire narratives and their tenets: Sex, blood, and death. As the film progresses, we are constantly weighing the possibilities of the supernatural against the obsessive emotional state of our narrator.  Is Ernessa really a vampire, or is this simply how Rebecca sees her? When Ernessa comments how much she and Rebecca look alike, we almost wonder if she’s real at all or just a manifestation of our narrator’s darkest inclinations.

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The Moth Diaries is a beautiful film to behold and an excellent study in female adolescence.  As a narrative, however, the film is at times vague, at other times needlessly complex.  We’re never given a cohesive backstory for Ernessa, which, in my opinion, is the film’s biggest omission   The climax brings resolution but little satisfaction.  I suspect that the missing pieces to this puzzle can probably be found in the novel, but a successful film adaptation should be able to stand on its own merits. I’m not sure if the film suffers from poor execution or if the facts are meant to be muddled, thus keeping the story’s focus on Rebecca and her personal transformation.

The Moth Diaries has a few bloody moments, but is mostly devoid of gore and terror.  My final assessment: This film is a moody, psychological drama that will appeal to anyone with Gothic sensibilities.  Those looking for a powerful Horror experience, however, will consider The Moth Diaries weak sauce.

Rated R or scenes of teenage lesbianism.

2.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.

Trailer: HERE 

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Release Date April 20 2012
Studio IFC FIlms
Director Mary Harron
Writer Rachel Klein
Starring Lily Cole, Scott Speedman, Sarah Gadon, Sarah Bolger
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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

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