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August 31, 2012

Movies You Missed 54: The Moth Diaries

Moth-diariesThis week in movies you missed: teenage lesbian vampires, oh my! Or, perhaps, ho-hum.

What You Missed

When a mysterious new pupil named Ernessa (Lily Cole, pictured) comes to exclusive, girls-only Brangwyn School, she brings trouble for young Rebecca (Sarah Bolger). Traumatized by the suicide of her father, a famous poet, Rebecca has been leaning hard on the support of her wan but nurturing roommate and best friend, Lucie (Sarah Gadon).

But now Lucie and Ernessa are developing a close friendship — some would say too close. Rebecca, who's been taking a class in vampire fiction from the school's hot new teacher (Scott Speedman), is becoming convinced that Ernessa is literally sucking the life from Lucie. Can she convince anyone else?

Why You Missed It

This Irish-Canadian coproduction only played in two U.S. theaters, though it's scripted and directed by Mary Harron, the justly acclaimed director of American Psycho and I Shot Andy Warhol.

Should You Keep Missing It?

I wanted The Moth Diaries to be good. After all that Team Edward/Team Jacob foolishness, it would be nice to see a self-aware gothic that is purely about teen girls and their anxieties, crushes and obsessions (with each other, among other things). Harron seems like the perfect person to helm one, and the book on which the film is based (by Rachel Klein) has a strong fan base and sounds a lot smarter than Twilight.

But The Moth Diaries just does not work. The creepy boarding-school atmosphere is there. The acting is fine. The problem is with the story itself.

Klein's novel is set in the 1960s and consists entirely of Rebecca's diary entries (hence the title). The film is set in the vague present and appears to show events objectively, though we sometimes hear Rebecca's diary in voiceover.

Both changes are problematic. For one thing, it stretches credibility to suggest that a 21st-century girl needs to learn about vampire lore from 19th-century novels. For another, the film fails to establish Rebecca as an unreliable narrator, which appears to be the crux of the novel.

Sure, Rebecca has weird, saturated-color flashbacks about her dad, and nightmares, and she's clearly mentally unstable. But we are never offered any evidence that she is imagining Ernessa's malevolent, supernatural nature — just the opposite. (A cheesy special effect of Ernessa stepping through a closed window leaves little ambiguity.) It doesn't help that Cole, the British model who starred in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, just looks like a vampire.

So we are trapped in Rebecca's version of the story, which is so traditional that nothing unexpected ever happens. Worse, what Rebecca believes is happening keeps getting spelled out for us, as if we hadn't already figured out that Lucie is a parallel to Lucy in Bram Stoker's Dracula. I gave up on the movie after a painfully unsubtle conversation between Rebecca and her teacher that serves to remind us, once again, that the heroine is applying the vampire-fiction template to her life.

Verdict: If "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" did anything, it made this type of story obsolete, but teen girls seeking something weirder than Twilight might still get a kick out of it. The setting and Cole are authentically creepy. There are no cute boys, however, unless you count Speedman.

The Alternative: Watching The Moth Diaries made me remember there really is a smart, low-budget Canadian horror flick about girls coming of age, scripted by a woman. That would be Ginger Snaps.

More New DVD Releases

  • American Bully (Not to be confused with Bully, this is a fictional story about, well, bullies.)
  • Apartment 143 (It's haunted! And invaded by parapsychologists.)
  • Battleship
  • Best Laid Plans (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in a British drama similar to Of Mice and Men)
  • Darling Companion
  • The Frankenstein Syndrome (Stem cells help reanimate the dead!)
  • Headhunters
  • L!fe Happens (Krysten Ritter, Kate Bosworth and Rachel Bilson are roommates bonding about life stuff. L!fe stuff?)
  • Lonesome (recovered 1928 film about lovers at Coney Island)
  • The Lucky One (My mom liked it. I did not.)
  • Monsieur Lazhar (Québec drama about a schoolteacher who doesn't fit in)
  • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Continues the doc series that spurred a movement to reexamine the cases of three teenagers convicted of child murder)
  • The Pirates: Band of Misfits (Kids' animated flick)
  • The Snowtown Murders (Intense drama about real-life Australian serial killers)
  • Think Like a Man (Rom com centered on the Steve Harvey self-help book)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)

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