Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Recent Watches: The Moth Diaries

4. The Moth Diaries

Vampires are fucking everywhere these days. This isn’t news and, frankly, people bitching about the overabundance of vampires is almost as annoying as the crappy movies themselves. We all know who is to blame. It’s gotten so pandemic that even respected filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch and Neil Jordan (again) are getting caught up in the fad.

It’s out of this environment that emerges “The Moth Diaries,” the latest from Mary Harron. Based off the young adult novel by Rachel Klein, so all ready a red flag goes up for me, the film is a modern retelling of “Carmilla,” the original lesbian vampire story. The film even outright references the original source material. Taken place at an all-girls prep school in some unspecified location, the story revolves around the intense friendship between Rebecca and Lucy. The two are bestest best friends forever, so close that the movie knowingly implies a, possibly one-sided, lesbian attraction. This budding Sapphic love is disrupted by the appearance of Ernessa, an odd (and odd-looking) girl that Lucy seems uncontrollably drawn too. The two quickly become inseparable, causing Rebecca a great deal of angst over her lost lady love. When students and teachers start dying mysteriously, and Lucy stops eating, Rebecca’s paranoia around Ernessa reaches manic levels.

It’s not difficult to see Harron’s attraction to the material. An obvious feminist, a story revolving around an almost completely female cast and filled with such blatant gay subtext was no doubt appealing for her. The sexually confused mind of a teenage girl is mostly unexplored and fertile ground. The movie could have potentially been a feminist rebuttal to the subjugated, boy and virginity obsessed women of the “Twilight” series. Not to mention a film knowingly identifying as “gothic,” but not in the Hot Topic sense of the word, is kind of cool in this day of age. All of this doesn’t matter because “The Moth Diaries” is uniformly dull.

First off, none of its young cast brings much to the material. Sarah Bolger in the lead role acts at the level of a Disney channel sitcom. Her emotions appear totally disingenuous and the heavy-handed voice-over she’s given just further bogs down the film. Sarah Gadon practices her blank stare technique throughout most of the film. She’s totally flat and has zero chemistry with any of her co-stars. Lily Cole has a freakish doll-like face. (Seriously, look at her.) Despite this potentially adding to her character’s uncanny attitude, the movie downplays and prevents her from looking like a walking Kid Sister doll most of the time. It’s probably the best of the three central performances but the actress nor the film once convincingly sell Ernessa as the mysterious, alluring, or threatening presence the story says she is. She simply exists to push the plot forward.

The story is a jumbled-up mess. The movie has a preoccupation with suicide. Her father’s suicide still haunts Rebecca and she considers it herself. This subplot goes nowhere except adding a superficial layer of irony when another character’s fate is revealed. Several story threads are picked up, dropped, and never mentioned again. A bisexual, partying class mate is dismissed early on, never brought up again. A teacher, played by Scott Speedman, develops an attraction to Rebecca and the two even kiss, despite Rebecca being an obvious lesbian and this not being a story about teachers macking on their students. This event seems to have been thrown in seemingly for the hell of it. It amounts to nothing. None of the character’s death contributes to the story and, after an initial show of shock, no body seems much bothered by them. The movie replaces the cat symbolism of “Carmilla” with moths. I guess because moths metamorphise and this is a story about teenage girls growing up? Either way, it’s unexplained and under-realized.

As the story nears its end, our heroine begins to have vivid hallucinations and nightmares. Many of these scenes, such as one of Lucy and Ernessa floating into the sky and turning into a cloud of sparkles, come out of nowhere. The obvious intention is to show Rebecca’s deteriorating mental state but it’s handled so matter-of-factually that it just comes off as another scene in the movie. The film is barely eighties minutes and these moments just pad out the last act more. The antagonist’s demise is handled in such a flat, unassuming manner that any potential dramatic tension is completely undermanned. Mary Harron’s visuals are sometimes crisp and intriguing but she shows no aptitude for gothic atmosphere and seems almost as bored as the audience. Despite her post-“American Psycho” reputation, she’s not much of a horror director.

At least the movie isn’t a PG-13 “Twilight” rip-off. There’s some blood and two somewhat explicit sex scenes. Faint praise, but the movie is more nuanced then that series, since it isn’t just the demented romantic fantasy of a sad Mormon housewife. It at least attempts to address some serious and complicated issues. Attempts and fails. “The Moth Diaries” is a future film that time forgot. [Grade: D]

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