APRIL 28, 2012
Maybe I should just stay away from "literary horror" for a while? Just a day after being bored into a near-coma by The Raven, I take in The Moth Diaries, which is not only based on a novel (one that predates "Twilight", I should mention) but is about a girl who thinks the events in her life are paralleling "Carmilla", a novel that incidentally predates that OTHER famous vampire novel ("Dracula" - heard of it?) and is pretty much directly responsible for the "lesbian vampire" sub-genre that this movie flirts with but never commits to. But it never commits to anything, so that's not really a surprise.
The main problem with the movie is that it's practically an 80 minute montage. The passage of time is vague at best, and nothing is given a chance to really develop before the situation changes. The plot is about how this new girl in school has driven a wedge between our main character Rebecca and her best friend Lucy, but we only see them together for about a minute or so before they meet the new girl (Ernessa), and after what only seems like a day or so passes, they're already "drifting apart". And this sort of thing carries throughout the entire movie - at one point a girl leaves for spring break, when it had only been about 5 minutes and a handful of brief scenes since they had all returned from the holidays.
Thus, it's hard to take any of the drama seriously, because it just seems like Rebecca is over-reacting to Ernessa's "influence", and Lucy is supposedly dying all of a sudden when she just started showing signs of illness. If this was some historical epic with 58 characters, sure - you can deal with some shorthand, but when it's essentially about two girls fighting over a third, set entirely in one location, it feels really awkward to be constantly given the Cliff's Notes version of the story's events. The runtime is also suspect - it's not like 82 minutes with credits is bloated; they could have had another 10-15 minutes to flesh these things out, spend some time with the girls before Ernessa's arrival, etc. Why are they racing through a character based thriller?
See, the idea is (I think) is for us to wonder if Rebecca is just being paranoid or if Ernessa is actually a vampire. There are a lot of metaphors at play here (possibly too many); the natural drifting apart of close friends as they get closer to womanhood, the conformity of a private school stripping one of her identity, vampirism as a drug, etc, etc. Again, all in 82 minutes! PICK A THEME, MOVIE. But anyway, with some focus this could have worked, and there are times when it DOES, particularly when a girl is found dead on the ground outside her window. It's chalked up to a suicide or accident, but of course Rebecca suspects that Arnessa pushed her in order to get her out of the way, same as she had given one of the other girls some drugs that caused her to freak out and toss a chair through her window, resulting in expulsion. Stuff like that is always fun to puzzle through, and despite all of its problems I was sort of enjoying it for a while (at least, as much as I can enjoy a movie aimed at teen girls that have tired of Twilight).
But it never really escalates, and the film's refusal to focus just gets worse as it goes - when a major character suddenly dies I wondered if the editor accidentally deleted a ten minute chunk of the film right before he output it for its final mastering. And while they give enough evidence to "prove" that Arnessa is a vampire (or a ghost of some sort, at least), we never really get a full blown reveal - just a weird scene where her and another girl are scene floating before turning into moths, which seems like one of the film's many dream sequences. Ultimately, director Mary Harron seems to be suggesting that it doesn't matter, and that the point of the movie was to show how Rebecca learned to get past the death of her father, but again - the film's overly generalized approach to plot and character development prevents us from latching on to her. Ultimately, we only care about her because the camera's on her more often than anyone else, not because of anything she actually DOES.
Oh, and can we call a lifetime moratorium on scenes where an English teacher talks about some book and it happens to parallel the plot of the film we're watching? It works in Halloween because the book is made up (and it refers to the general idea of fate), but this movie (and presumably the book) seemingly spends half its time comparing itself to "Carmilla" and even a bit of "Dracula", which is not a good idea when things are so uninvolving. "Hey, I could be reading one of those, or at least watching one of their adaptations, instead of watching this" is what any sane person would start thinking after a while. Plus it's just so cheesy in general; it's gotten to the point where as soon as we cut to the class for the first time, we're basically going to get a spoiler for the movie as soon as we know what book they're reading. "Oh, Hamlet? I guess we're in for a Pyrrhic victory." On that note, I'd actually like to see a comedy where someone is reading "The Odyssey" and then wonders why their own life isn't mirroring Homer's tale.
Oh, and it's not scary. For an R rated movie, nothing happens on-screen; this may be the first vampire movie that doesn't have anyone being bitten. There's a tame, very brief lesbian tryst that MAY involve biting, but, you know, some people just do that - we don't see puncturing, at any rate. People bitch about the Twilights not really being horror; shit, at least we see them transform, and get at least ONE true fight in each film (hell, the 3rd one had the sparkly bastards dying left and right at the end). I assume they were interested in making more of a drama, but since they failed so miserably in that department it's a shame they couldn't make up for it by being a little exploitative or graphic every now and then.
As I said, it's aimed at teen girls, and I'm sure they will find it entertaining because they can identify with fighting with their best friend over stupid shit that they think is much more important than it is, or swooning over one of their younger male teachers or whatever. However, the R rating will theoretically prevent them from seeing it until they're old enough to realize it's empty trash, so the target audience is girls with parents who don't care much about what they're seeing, but if that's the case then they might as well just watch Hammer's The Vampire Lovers, which is also based on "Carmilla". Or Harron's American Psycho, her last feature length genre effort in which she managed to make a serial killer yuppie douch more likable and compelling than she did our innocent heroine here.
What say you?