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The Moth Diaries | Review

Dear Diary, I Have Nothing New To Say

Celebrated indie helmer Mary Harron returns with her first feature since 2005, an adaption of a popular novel by Rachel Klein, The Moth Diaries, concerning vampirism in a female boarding school. Whereas the female boarding school setting was once a hotbed of repression, latent lesbian tendencies, hysteria prone young ladies and fibromyalgia suffering matrons, it has now become a formula for excessive camp and unintentional laughs. Harron’s latest is only a representative example of all the reasons why this genre tends to be revamped in all the wrong ways.

Set in the Irish countryside, Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) returns to Brangwyn College, still grappling with the suicide of her father, a famous poet. She immediately seeks comfort with her best friend, Lucie (Sarah Gadon), a young woman of a perfect disposition. Expressing their love for each other in Sapphic tinged reminisces and school girl games, their world is suddenly disturbed by a new student, Ernessa (a striking Lily Cole), an afflicted young woman also recovering from her father’s suicide. Lucie is instantly intrigued by Ernessa, and, as if under a spell, she becomes Ernessa’s best friend and isolates herself from Rebecca. As Rebecca narrates her distress through her trusty diary, we see Lucie become pale, frail, and sickly. Also, other bizarre incidents begin to happen to Rebecca’s other, lesser friends and she soon realizes that Ernessa is perhaps an evil vampire, hell bent on destroying the precarious existence she has eked out for herself. Rebecca seems to find no solace in the adults, as she approaches both the estranged head of the school, Miss Rood (Judy Parfitt), and a seductive literature instructor (Scott Speedman), obviously eager to bed the young lass, though he may just be an awful big fan of her father’s poetry. As girls start to die, Rebecca attempts to take the situation into her own hands.

The Moth Diaries borrows heavily from classic literature with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Speedman’s teacher has the girls reading J. Sheridan LeFanu’s classic novel, Carmilla, an influence on Stoker, concerning lady lesbian bloodsuckers. Direct passages are used, which of course mirror exactly what’s going on in the plot. And as her best friend Lucie withers away, one can’t help but link this to Dracula. While the girls’ boarding school setting was traditionally a hotbed of exploitation in B thriller/horror cinema, The Moth Diaries is evidence that this is no longer a thrilling subgenre. As awkwardly hysterical as something like Lost and Delirious (2001) and actually less fun than the strange train-wreck, Cracks (2009), Harron’s boarding school has A list aspirations with all the worst B list trappings.

At its worst is lead Sarah Bolger as Rebecca. She longingly watches best friend Lucie (who is caricature saccharine sweet vanilla) in the bathtub and utters things like “You have no idea how much I long for moments like these” while also having a tad too many spontaneous flashbacks to her father’s suicide. And Bolger isn’t up to par in scenes that call for her to be hysterical, where she simply does a poor fake cry and flails around a bit. The film’s strongest performer is the awesomely strange looking Lily Cole. Her lithe, evil, slink is enough to make anyone uncomfortable, but her presence is wasted here. The stunningly terrible anticlimax does nothing but a disservice to her character. And nothing is duller than a misunderstood teenage girl narrating from her diary. Especially not one that has lacks all common sense.

Reviewed on September 13 at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – Special Presentations Programme.

85 Mins.

Rating 1.5 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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