The Moth Diaries – Movie Review

Good overall plot and production that do not come together in the sharp focus of a conventional horror film. Entertaining nonetheless.

Filmmaker Mary Harron prides herself on making films that are outside of the mainstream. If you saw “American Psycho” and, especially, the more obscure “I Shot Andy Warhol” this flick is right up your alley. Unfortunately, this film does not have the simmering Christian Bale. However, it does have a cast of energetic young actors who get the story across with sincerity and grace.

The film was shot in Montreal is a suitably old, dark and misty institutional-looking former hotel that itself suggests dark secrets and unmanageable karma. Before the story begins the building itself appears ready to collapse under weight of its spiritually crippled past.

Reeling from her poet fathers grim and gory suicide, Rebecca (Irish actress Sarah Bolger—“The Tudors”) enrolls at the school and begins to rebuild her life through her friendship with fellow student Lucie (Sarah Gadon) and the other well-off, fashionable and quirky residents of the academy.

This changes when new student Ernessa (Lily Cole) arrives and seems to cast a spell over the entire place. One-by-one, the students on whom Rebecca has learned to rely, leave the scene. Some leave the school on their own two feet. Some leave through more violent methods.

Rebecca becomes increasingly jealous in the commanding position the new girl Ernessa has achieved in her short stay in the dorm. She is especially jealous of Ernessa’s relationship with Lucie, which borders on lesbianism. As the odd and violent events mount up, it is unclear if they are accidents or if they are cleverly disguised murders.

Rebecca suspects Ernessa is at the bottom of it, but the audience finds it hard to tell if the creepy Ernessa is the perpetrator or if the obviously mentally unsound Rebecca is pulling a Norman Bates “Psycho” move.

Director Harron uses the rooms of the hotel/school as compartments of secretive grief that isolate the souls of the girls from one another. What happens in the rooms, stays in the rooms and nobody, except, perhaps, the suspiciously omniscient Ernessa, knows the whole story.

There are flashbacks to Rebecca’s father’s suicide and Rebecca, herself, seems to be taking the place of her father, her blood mingling with his in an incestuously suggestive death pact stretching across generations. English teacher Mr. Davies (Scott Speedman) provides a provocative father substitute for the young girl.

Rebecca’s guilt over her father’s death makes her super protective of Lucie, bit it is unclear if that is a positive behavior or malevolence towards Ernessa who definitely appears to know more that she is letting on. Throughout, the adults at the school are bewildered and hopelessly out of their depth in the spiritual adventures of their charges. The teens clearly are running this ship while the adults are straightening out the deck chairs.

There are mixed messages of established horror clichés such as vampires and zombies that the filmmaker is not able to meld and focus with suitable skill. The result is a somewhat disjointed message of mixed horror images and plots, all of which come together in a not unpredictable ending. Perhaps the sins of the family follow the daughter.

However, the film would have been more powerful if somebody would have been definitively at fault. Then, the punishment in the end would have been more suitable. As it is, the plot seems to revolve around some ill-defined curse that has been visited on everybody. Perhaps a curse that feeds on teenage rivalries, jealousies and betrayals.

In any event, the cinematography and sets are suitably creepy and claustrophobic, and, of course, the young girls suitable sexy and desirable. The final message is one of moving on, but that comes across as unsuitably rational in what is otherwise a moderately bloody scary movie. It might have been better if the filmmaker went one way or the other instead of trying to be both a horror film and a psychological study. It is a tough line to walk.

Produced by “American Psycho” producer Edward R. Pressman. Suitable creepy cinematography by Declan Quinn who was DP for Jim Sheridan’s monumental “In America.”

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Directed by: Mary Harron
Written by: Mary Harron, Rachel Klein (novel)
Starring: Sarah Bolger, Sarah Gadon and Lily Cole
Release Date: April 16, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for some bloody images, sexuality, drug use and language
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Country: Canada / Ireland
Language: English