Out today in select theaters is a new independent film, The Moth Diaries, the slightly surreal story of a young woman who discovers her boarding school roommate (and best friend) has fallen under the spell of a vampire. Directed by Mary Harron, whose previous efforts include the searingly awesome American Psycho, the movie tries to turn a trashy trope (lesbian boarding school vampires) into something profound. The results are mixed.
Rebecca is a neurotic teenager who is still recovering after finding her father's body when he committed suicide two years before. He was a famous poet, and so she isn't just coping with her own loss, but the creepy outpourings of sentiment from her father's many admirers (including one of her teachers). In that sense, Rebecca is kind of like the high art version of Kurt Cobain's kid Frances Bean — she even has a useless, alcoholic mom who has sent Rebecca off to boarding school because she can't cope with motherhood. Luckily, Rebecca's best friend Lucie will be sharing her Victorian-style suite this year. Their two rooms are connected by a door that begins the term propped open, but slowly closes more and more often.
In a series of oversharey voiceovers that veer into Captain Obvious territory, Rebecca tells us that Lucie is the main reason she's recovered from her father's death. Lucie is a kind of surrogate father, providing Rebecca with love and comfort. At least she was doing that — but then the creepy Ernessa arrives and changes everything.
Played by Lily Cole, Ernessa is like a humorless version of Wednesday Addams, pale-faced and spooky. She immediately takes a shine to Lucie (whose name recalls that other Lucy, the first victim claimed by Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel). As Ernessa and Lucie spend more time together, Rebecca becomes confused and suicidal — especially when her other friends start disappearing one by one. A weird smell is coming from Ernessa's room, and Rebecca sees her passing through walls. At the same time, Lucie has come down with some kind of ailment that's threatening to steal her life away.
We never quite know how much of this drama is happening in Rebecca's mind, and unfortunately the film doesn't either. This isn't a fun tangle of ambiguity — it's mostly just a lazy mess full of plotholes. If Lucie is dying of a mystery disease, for example, why don't her parents ever come to pull her out of school and put her in a real hospital? Questions like these are never answered, yet we're beaten over the head with voiceovers from Rebecca that basically recap the action as it's happening. In case you were wondering, Rebecca has daddy issues. No, really, she's super upset about her dad. Also, her dad committed suicide. Did you get that yet?
It turns out that Ernessa has daddy issues too, and so does Rebecca's molesty teacher. For a movie about women's relationships with each other, there are an awful lot of conversations about men. And there are an awful lot of crucial conversations that never take place, especially between Rebecca and Lucie. Why don't we hear more about what these teens mean to each other as people, instead of as daddy stand-ins? Rather than actual female bonding, we are treated to several scenes of the young women running around in semi-transparent Victorian nightgowns and breathing heavily. I'm not averse to nightgowns at all — I just wished these scenes served a purpose, or developed a story about what makes these characters so emotionally invested in each other.
Also, if you were hoping for a happy lesbian vampire boarding school story — which, let's face it, most of us are — this movie isn't it. Lesbianism equals vampirism equals daddy death equals seriously don't do that. I wound up wishing that the team behind Vampire Diaries had polished this script. At least they might have shown us some sympathy for the monsters. In The Moth Diaries, we're just left with a half-baked morality tale that seems to suggest that young women are so hungry for daddy surrogates that they seek them in each other — and when they don't, they are evil and must be stopped.