For all the great movies you might get a chance to see at a major film festival like TIFF, the festival experience wouldn’t be complete without catching at least one total dog of a movie. For me, that distinction this year goes to ‘The Moth Diaries’, the new supernatural thriller (of sorts) from Mary Harron, director of ‘I Shot Andy Warhol’ and ‘American Psycho‘.
You know it’s not a good sign when the director appears at the start of a screening to introduce her movie, but doesn’t stick around for the traditional Q&A afterwards. I guess she was wise enough to get the hell out of Dodge.
The film is based on what I presume is a Young Adult novel by Rachel Klein, who has obviously studied up on ‘Twilight’. The story takes place at an all-girls boarding school where Rebecca (Sarah Bolger from ‘The Tudors’) has an unhealthy fixation with BFF Lucie (Sarah Gadon, who also appears in David Cronenberg’s ‘A Dangerous Method’ playing at TIFF). Eventually, Lucie starts to ignore Rebecca in favor of weird-looking new student Ernessa (Lily Cole, ‘The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus‘). This of course makes Rebecca incredibly jealous. Having spent too much time reading and obsessing over Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic vampire novel ‘Carmilla’ for class, Rebecca can’t help seeing parallels in Ernessa’s behavior, and soon suspects that the girl is a vampire (or some similar supernatural monster) sucking the life out of her best friend. When the only other friend who’ll listen to her mysteriously takes a dive out of her dorm room window, and the sympathetic male teacher (‘Felicity’ hunk Scott Speedman) turns out to be a creepy lecher, Rebecca realizes that she must take action into her own hands.
To give director Harron some credit, she is otherwise an interesting filmmaker, and I’m sure it wasn’t her intention (or at least, not her only intention) to make a ‘Twilight’ knock-off with this. Much of the story is narrated from Rebecca’s diary entries, and it’s somewhat interesting the way that Harron tries to capture the epistolary style and tone of ‘Carmilla’ and other famous works of Gothic fiction. The film also leaves it ambiguous as to whether Ernessa is really a vampire, or if Rebecca is just crazy. That’s by no means the most original twist in the world, but it’s something.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the nice things I have to say about ‘The Moth Diaries’, which is rather terrible on the whole. The acting is across-the-board awful from the entire cast, and the screenplay (adapted by author Klein herself) is made up almost exclusively of ridiculous clichés. Aside from a little bit of profanity and a brief flash of boobs, the movie plays like a really bad TV pilot for the CW network. Mary Harron is capable of better than this. I have to assume that she was constrained by her producers to deliver something that would appeal to the ‘Twilight’ audience.