Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) arrives for another year at a prestigious Catholic all-girl’s boarding school, still traumatized by her father’s suicide. Her semester quickly spirals out of control with the arrival of reticent new girl Ernessa (Lily Cole), who immediately latches on Rebecca’s best friend Lucie (Sarah Gadon). Jealous and increasingly disturbed by changes in Lucie’s behavior and health, Rebecca grows to suspect that Ernessa’s sway over her friend must be supernatural.
The Moth Diaries’ dialogue is often stilted, awkward in a way that feels far from realistic. Of course, this is a film about the supernatural and vampires, so I may be reaching; however, Ernessa often speaks like a Gothic vampire stereotype to the point where it just becomes silly. Compounding this with the ridiculous boarding school background, the tone of the film feels utterly fake and manufactured. That’s not to say boarding school is itself a ridiculous background, but I went to a private Catholic girl’s school and I’m well-aware that strange traditions and general weirdness can abound in such a community. There’s yet another level of strangeness layered on top here – but this is a bit much.
Moth Diaries fails from the outset in that it doesn’t give the audience any time at all to identify with anyone, from the main character to her best friend to the vampiric interloper. Given that this film relies heavily on you identifying with Rebecca and her relationships, particularly her and her best friend, missing that sense of attachment ultimately dooms the entire film to lacking anything of substance. Also problematic is the pacing of the film, which is just unrelentingly slow. For a story about vampires, slow makes a certain kind of sense; after all, vampires have forever and are in no hurry to do much of anything, making their acts of violence often feel quick and disproportionately cataclysmic. When any sort of violent action happens here (including a rather impressive, and bloody, scene in the last twenty minutes), it just feels out of place.
This is all more than a bit depressing seeing as there’s such a rich foundation for something complex and engaging, starting with the gothic background. Female relationships – especially those between best friends – are complicated things. Ginger Snaps, about sisters who are best friends, is a great example of a film that engages with this in a refreshing and dynamic way, portraying how often such relationships are about striking incredibly delicate balances between one personality and another, consciously or subconsciously. The Moth Diaries has none of this subtlety, and instead a narrative is crafted that is at once too much and too little. Rebecca and Lucy literally share half of one heart, each carrying half of a best friends necklace, yet their scenes together are so superficial. The necklace symbolism is just one example of the type of heavy-handedness that weaves its way through nearly every scene. Scott Speedman’s entire character, a libidinous and poetic new professor, is a victim of it, utilized like a punch in the face that completely misses its target. And honestly, can there ever be a boarding school movie where a teacher has a completely appropriate relationship with a student? Additionally, and not for nothing, but you’d have to go back in time to the 1990s to see someone wearing one of those friendship necklaces.
The good aspects of Moth Diaries are few. For one, it looks great – there’s a sense of texture in the majority of the film, and there are some truly striking shots that I very much enjoyed. Additionally, Sarah Bolger is good given what she’s working with, a character that in theory has depth, but in practice is awfully one-note. Balancing these two positives with a wealth of negatives results is an incredibly uneven film that mostly annoys rather than entertains, and it pains me to say this one belongs firmly in the ignore category of new horror film.