Carmen Bryce sinks her teeth into The Moth Diaries, which screened as part of the 11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (14-24 February 2013)
The Moth Diaries
Sat, 23rd February
It isn’t such a stretch of the imagination to see some of director Mary Harron’s grisly satire American Psycho in her latest offerings The Moth Diaries (2011).
While American Psycho (2000) brims over with violent masculinity and misogyny, The Moth Diaries, with its almost entirely female film, simmers with adolescent obsessions, latent lesbian desires and vampirism.
However, as Harron explained in the Q&A after the Jameson Dublin Film Festival screening of The Moth Diaries, both films are racked with ambiguity, blurring the border of hallucination and reality as told by an unreliable narrator misplaced from the rest of society.
The Moth Diaries is a re-imagining of the classic Gothic horror told through the journals of 16-year -old Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), a boarder at Brangwyn College, an elite boarding school for girls, who is haunted by her poet father’s suicide. Rebecca’s devoted friendship with the beautiful Lucy (Sarah Gadon) is endangered by the arrival of a curious new student Ernessa (Lily Cole). As eerie Ernessa stakes claim to precious Lucy and the harmony at the school is shattered, a fiercely jealous Rebecca starts to suspect that the unearthly stranger, who stalks the ground barefoot at night and never eats, is a vampire intent on destroying all she holds dear.
While watching through Rebecca’s gaze, there is no doubt that Ernessa must be stopped. However, like American Psycho, the reality of what we see is called into question by the mental instability of the narrator and we are never sure what is real and what is merely a figment of a damaged mind.
Ideally set in an archaic institution full of dark corners and dusty libraries, Harron and cinematographer Declan Quinn looked to 19th century artwork and Gothic literature to create a suitably claustrophobic world for the girls to intensify their already fanatical relationships.
Harrons explains, ‘The book is set in the 1960s but we didn’t want update to modern day. We purposely had an absence of any modern technology like mobile phones in the film to establish the girls’ isolation from the rest of the world. They are trapped in the location and in their own painful adolescence.’
The Moth Diaries is based novel by Rachel Klein that was lapped up by teenage girls fevered from the success of the Twilight franchise. However unlike Twilight, that centres on the tryst between adolescent boy and girl, The Moth Diaries explores the compelling relationships between teenage girls. Harron said what moved her to adapt Klein’s novel for the screen was that it is based on this powerful dynamic and the turbulent phase of a girl’s life. It was this lack of a male protagonist that was an obstacle in the making of the film, says Harron.
‘The absence of a sexy, young, heartthrob made the film very hard to finance. However good the actors are, the Hollywood template has a boy/girl romance,’ said the director.
‘The protagonist is always male. This is what made my role as a female protagonist so rare and special,’ said actress Sarah Bolger who was also present for the Q&A.
It is unclear in The Moth Diaries whether the supernatural triggers the explosions of female adolescent sensations (infatuation, unleashed sexuality, angst), or the other way around. It is this thematic blurring, enhanced by commendable lead performances and captivating cinematography, which offers so much more than the average teen vampire flick.