Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Moth Diaries – review

Director: Mary Harron

Release date: 2011

Contains spoilers

Whilst it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I really rather enjoyed the novel the Moth Diaries and looked forward to the film. I did worry, however, as to whom such a film might appeal.

Despite the involvement of vampires and teenage girls this was no tween book or story. The story, however, was more cerebral than gory… an exploration of cracked psyche and (possible) delusion. A tough nut to crack as a screenplay and even an tougher one when it came to target audience.

Sarah Bolger as Rebecca
Complaints circulated quickly. Book fans complaining that the unknown narrator now had a name, Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) – to which I suggest you get over yourselves… with a few notable exceptions the movie form names the characters and it is no big deal. Also from horror fans, and vampire genre fans, as there is little horror. This is more coming of age with a psychosexual viewpoint and works perfectly well like that.

Rebecca and Lucie
Sixteen years old Rebecca is returning to Brangwyn School, an all-girl boarding school that she has attended since she was fourteen. She had been placed in the school by her mother (Anne Day-Jones) after her poet father (Julian Casey) committed suicide. Her world is now focused on her best friend Lucie (Sarah Gadon) and this year they have adjoining rooms. As they arrive the excitement is around the fact that they now have a male teacher, Mr Davies (Scott Speedman, Underworld & Underworld Evolution)

Lily Cole as Ernessa
Early on, the Head Teacher Miss Rood (Judy Parfitt) introduces new pupil Ernessa Bloch (Lily Cole, Snow White and the Huntsman), an intense looking young lady, and asks Rebecca if she would show her around – something that does not happen. We also notice tensions, a little later, when Rebecca speaks to Lucie and Lucie suggests she is going to see mutual friend Dora (Melissa Farman). Rebecca whines that it is the first day back and they should spend it together and we see an uncomfortable look pass over Lucie’s face. Ernessa notices it too and asks Lucie, once Rebecca has gone to class, to show her around.

could this show Ernessa?
An animosity is quickly built by Rebecca towards Ernessa. She insinuates that the girl must have an eating disorder (as she never sees her eat) and resents the time she spends with Lucie (helping Lucie with German). The resentment is drawn into something otherworldly as Mr Davies is teaching Gothic literature and they are studying Carmilla. She becomes convinced that Ernessa is a vampire, her nocturnal walks not helping, and it does seem as we look through Rebecca’s eyes that she disposses of many of Lucie and Rebecca’s friends – for instance encouraging friend Charlie (Valerie Tian, Jennifer’s Body & The Boy Who Cried Werewolf) to act in a way that gets her expelled.

Ernessa walks the guttering
When it comes to Lucie, Rebecca is convinced that it is Lucie’s fault for being weak but also that Ernessa is fixating on her in a way mirroring the text of Carmilla, “The vampire is prone to be fascinated with an engrossing vehemence, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons. In pursuit of these it will exercise inexhaustible patience and stratagem, for access to a particular object may be obstructed in a hundred ways. It will never desist until it has satiated its passion, and drained the very life of its coveted victim. But it will, in these cases, husband and protract its murderous enjoyment with the refinement of an epicure, and heighten it by the gradual approaches of an artful courtship. In these cases it seems to yearn for something like sympathy and consent. In ordinary ones it goes direct to its object, overpowers with violence, and strangles and exhausts often at a single feast.” However, we are never sure of whether Ernessa does all that Rebecca 'sees'. When with Rebecca, Dora sees Ernessa pass through glass but then denies it immediately, stretching for a rational explanation.

Indeed there is a reading of the film in which it is Rebecca who is actually the vampire, but we will look at the lore as laid before us. Rebecca claims that Ernessa’s room has a sickly sweet smell, she sees her floating with Lucy and become a flock of moths. She also sees moths within Ernessa’s room and, we note, she associates moths (specifically a lunar moth) with her father. Her father committed suicide, as did Ernessa in the early 20th century when the school was a hotel. She connects suicide with a line that “a person may become a vampire if he dies unseen.” Dying unseen was a traditional route to becoming a vampire, as was suicide, and Rebecca believes Ernessa is intent on driving her towards suicide.

blood shower
As for the type of vampire, it seems unconnected with blood. We do see Rebecca have a nose bleed and Ernessa seems to lick some of that blood from her finger and we also see Rebecca have a rather messy period. However the main association of blood is with suicide (in flashbacks of both Ernessa’s and Rebecca’s father's suicides) and we get a scene with Ernessa being showered with blood but it is clearly in Rebecca’s mind – a (day)dream, supernatural communication or psychotic vision we can’t say. At one point we see Ernessa and Lucy together and it could be a feed, but it could also have been sex that Rebecca looked in upon. Lucie wastes away, to be sure, and we see flowers fade quickly. I would say there was as much chance that Ernessa (or even Rebecca) was an energy vampire as a standard one. There is also some evidence that Ernessa might be spectral but I won’t go further into that as it is tied with a spoiler.

feeding or sex?
The film was well enough acted, but the show was stolen by Lily Cole who was marvellously eerie. I felt the whole Mr Davies aspect was a waste of celluloid, other than introducing Rebecca to Carmilla. In the book his role is part of a secondary storyline but rather sinister, in this it felt clumsy. That said I really rather enjoyed this and will buck against the trend giving it 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Margaret Schalliol said...

I'm glad to finally have your thoughts on this. I admit I liked this one more than I expected too, and I think it has been somewhat underrated. The problems I had with it were two fold. One was the same problem I had with the book, in that I felt frustration with our narrators inaction for so much of the movie in the face of her perceived reality. The second problem was that in the book it was quite clear that you were never really sure what was real and what wasn't. I think without the indication that the narrator was being treated for psychiatric issues, there is never quite the question as to what is real and what isn't as it is so clearly defined in the book, and that seemed like a flaw in the movie to me. Otherwise, I thought it was a very good film.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Margaret I can't disagree and the two points would have easily been resolved.

The modernising of the film might (?) have made it difficult to suggest this was her 30 odd year old self looking back, but perhaps more involvement of the school psychologist early on - just an appointment or two - with a comment from Rebecca saying they think that I'm mad. This might also then go on to explain her inaction as she couldn't make a move without some form of external validation as she didn't want her actions brought to the attention of the psychologist (I'll admit that bit isn't as well thought through on my part).

Then maybe a comment to Mr Davies when talking about Lucie and Ernessa to say "you're just like Miss ___ (the psychologist) you think I'm mad" would have put a larger element of doubt into the story. This would have also made Davies action even more insiduous and maybe made the storyline less of a wasted one.

Perhaps a line from Davies also just saying something like "this girl Ernessa, I don't know her", which might have been because he was new or because she wasn't real - a little cloud of doubt.

But, as you say, otherwise a very good film

Unknown said...

I think this is the best Vampire film made in my lifetime. Second would be Let Me In.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I can appreciate that. For me Let Me In is superior but of course tpersonal tastes are what makes the world interesting ;)