Based a novel by Rachel Klein, Mary Harron's The Moth Diaries never reaches its potential. The plot follows Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) to an all-girls boarding school. She feels that she is turning over a new leaf two years after the suicide of her father, a respected poet. Her bosom buddy Lucie (Sarah Gadon) considers herself boring, but Rebecca sees Lucie as the light at the end of her tunnel. Unfortunately, the enigmatic Ernessa (Lily Cole) arrives, driving a wedge between the two.
A lot is going on here. As their English teacher Mr. Davies (Scott Speedman) schools them on Dracula and homoerotic vampire stories, one can't help but remember that Lucy was Dracula's doomed victim. Is Ernessa metaphorically sucking the life out of Lucie? Is Ernessa literally a vampire? Or is this all in Rebecca's troubled mind? Why do Ernessa and Rebecca share so many similarities? Why does Ernessa tempt Rebecca with thoughts of suicide? Why is Mr. Davies, who admires Rebecca's late father, so interested in the sixteen-year-old Rebecca? Why is Rebecca afraid of sex--is it fear of adolescence, lesbianism, or something more sinister?
These are all intriguing questions, but none are resolved. Instead of lending an unsettling ambiguity to the story, this reduces the movie's emotional impact. Perhaps the biggest problem is the film's tone. Though there is some lovely imagery, the editing, music, and cinematography feel more like a generic teen flick than a haunting psychological thriller. The three main actresses have an ethereal beauty and do their best with what they have. Yet most of the cast lack gravitas. Then again, the fault may lie more with the movie's atmosphere than its actors.
Bolger is especially effective in her emotional scenes but doesn't hint at her potential insanity. Cole is the most effective of the girls as the elegant Ernessa. Her imposing height offsets her sweet, childlike face. She is the mysterious friend who plays the piano, speaks German, and writes poetry more beautifully than anyone else. Speedman is fine as Davies, but one wonders why the school's first male professor is young, attractive, and prone to discussing the power of female sexuality.
This was a great opportunity for a resonant and dark coming-of-age story. In spite of a few otherworldly moments, The Moth Diaries doesn't satisfyingly tie up any of its loose ends, leaving the viewer more confused than haunted.