It bothers me when I have to write a bad review.
There’s potential for potential in The Moth Diaries, but it is sadly left undiscovered.
Helmed by Mary Harron, who directed American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page, both films I really enjoyed, Diaries seems like a misstep.
The film has all the ingredients for what could have been a moody, gothic horror but they’re practically ignored until the last act, in fact the last few minutes of the film. So at that point when these ingredients are added to the mix, there was some restrained laughter from the audience.
Adapted from the novel by Rachel Klein, I have to hope that the story works better that way. The film follows Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) as her friendship with her best friend Lucie (Sarah Gadon) disintegrates under the influence of a new student, Ernessa (Lily Cole) at their isolated private school.
Ernessa, who may be more than she appears, seems to systematically work on eliminating all of Rebecca’s connections. Her friends die, or are expelled, or simply grow tired of hearing Rebecca’s seemingly paranoid complaining about the new girl.
The film can be seen as an analogy for sexual discovery, or as a fear of sex in general. It’s established early in the film that Rebecca is a virgin, while her other friends are starting to experiment. She’s troubled and frightened when she stumbles upon Lucie in sensual abandon with Ernessa, and dreams of one of her friends having a very unpleasant, painful first sexual encounter with her boyfriend. The only other male in the film, a teacher (Scott Speedman), an authority figure who greatly admired her deceased father, makes very inappropriate overtures towards her.
It’s there in the title, Diaries, but the use of voice-over (Rebecca’s diary), in lieu of character development is trying, and heavy-handed to say the least. Instead of letting the audience figure things out on their own, the voice-over leads you step by step, to over-explain every thought that passes through her head.
That causes a huge problem for me, the lack of characterization, and the voice-overs made the film seem longer than it’s 82 minute running time – that’s never a good sign.
I think if time had’ve been spent developing the characters, the mood, and introducing gothic imagery from the start of the film it could’ve been something really spectacular, crossing classic Hammer films with their new incarnation, The Woman In Black. There would have been repressed sexuality, sensuality, blood, darkened and imposing buildings, and mood!
The cast is lovely to look at, and who doesn’t like those uniforms and kilts? But the film just doesn’t work, in my opinion.
The mystery of Ernessa is too quickly revealed, in a drug-induced haze no less, and when the supernatural is added to the film through visual effects, they seem completely out of place.
It was as if the film was made to be a horror film by someone who had never seen a horror film.
And for that, I am sorry.