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Moth Diaries, The

MPI Home Video // R // August 28, 2012
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 17, 2012 | E-mail the Author
Three things I wish there were more of in The Moth Diaries.

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August 17th, 2012

Dear Moth Diary,

I just finished sitting through this movie helmed by American Psycho director Mary Harron 'cause I figured that sort of pedigree would be a good thing. Check! It's one of those rare horror movies anymore that's
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rated R, so that's one more check. All-girl boarding school: check. Female vampire, even though no one actually calls her that: double check!

Being optimistic and all, I figured I might be treated to an inversion of the traditional male-oriented vampire myth, a welcolmed change of pace after the whole Twilight deal with its spineless, vacuous female lead. At worst, there'd obviously be lots of nubile teenage-ish girls sucking on each other. Plus, y'know, boobies. I'd get something intellectually stimulating or something the-other-kind-of-stimulating is what I'm saying, I guess. Instead, The Moth Diaries is kinda dumb and really boring.

Oh, but wait, Fake Diary Entry! I'm getting ahead of myself. The Moth Diaries is based on the young adult novel of the same name by Rachel Klein, and it was published three years before the first Twilight book so you totally can't call it a ripoff. Anyway, Sarah Bolger stars as a teenaged girl named Rebecca who's still reeling from the recent suicide of her kinda-sorta-renowned poet of a father. Her all-girl boarding school would seem to offer a welcolmed distraction from all the dark thoughts churning around in her head, and...hey! For a while there, it kind of does.

She's once again sharing a room with Lucie (Sarah Gadon), her bestest friend in the whole world, 'Becca and her pals play Rock Band, they party with the least naughty kind of drugs, and OMFG the new English teacher (Scott Speedman) is a total babe!!!!!!!!11!. Oh, but all that comes crashing down when a strange looking girl with the equally strange name of Ernessa (Lily Cole) moves in across the hall.

All of a sudden, Lucie starts going all Renfield, polishing Ernessa's shoes, fiercely defending the new girl's honor at every turn, and pretty much abandoning her old friends. No one ever sees Ernessa eat anything. She

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talks way too joyously about death. There was that one time where she dipped her finger in Rebecca's nosebleed and licked it, which is...hmmm. Oh, and kind of everyone around her either gets booted out of school, falls deathly ill, or is savagely murdered. Number of mysterious illnesses and deaths before Ernessa...? I don't know, but I'm guessing 0. The tally afterwards...? Lots! And then there's oodles of stuff about suicide and sex and hallucinations and moths popping up everywhere and...

The Moth Diaries is kind of a trainwreck. It's littered with such clunky dialogue as "Can't you see their hovering spirits entwined through eternity -- just like a poem?" and "I'm not going to indulge you in your ridiculous obsession!" It's a character-based horror film with thinly-sketched characters and borderline-nothing in the way of horror, so...yeah, that's not a good thing. Genre films don't necessarily need to deliver scares, but they should at the very least be moody and atmospheric. The Moth Diaries not only fails on those fronts as well, but it never really seems to be trying.

Everything Ernessa does takes place off-camera, ostensibly to lead viewers to believe that Rebecca might be imagining all this, although the movie never successfully sells that as a realistic possibility either. Basically no one in the cast has much of a personality. They do things, and some of them have deliriously over-the-top tics like the crazy Asian chick who drinks and tells stories of sex with girls and throws chairs out of windows and skateboards down the halls and Spring break WOO!, but you don't ever feel as if you know any of these girls. Even
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Rebecca -- the lead of the movie! -- is defined almost entirely by how she reacts to other people, having seemingly nothing of note to call her own.

There isn't meat to any the friendships. A whole lot of the performances are stilted and unnatural, and although I like Sarah Bolger well enough, she doesn't come close to selling it when Rebecca's at her most emotionally frenzied. I'm given no reason to care about any of these characters or anything that happens to 'em. Um, that hardly anything happens throughout the course of the entire film isn't a plus either.

The sapphic subtext demanded by a vampire movie set in a girls' school is barely there. There are pointless subplots like Scott Speedman's English teacher just sit through the whole flick wondering when he's going to start pawing at Rebecca, that inevitably happens because why else would he be in the movie?, and there's pretty much no fallout or consequence to that at all.

The Moth Diaries seems like it's starting to say something about grief and nascent adulthood and blood and life and death and sex and identity, and then it doesn't. The movie rushes too quickly through all of the character stuff for any of that to make an impact, far too little happens for The Moth Diaries to function as a plot-driven film, and...I dunno, essentially nothing about it works. It feels like huge chunks of the movie were gutted out for pacing, screaming ahead towards a suspense-free crescendo that I didn't realize was supposed to be the climax until it was over.

Anyway, Fake Diary Entry, I know you're a book that doesn't actually exist and don't have a credit history or a walletful of a cash, so I probably don't have to keep going. Still, if you were wondering if The Moth Diaries would be a worthwhile use of your time to buy off Amazon or check out on Netflix, I think I'd write Skip It in bold and italics, kinda like that.

Declan Quinn's heavily stylized cinematography translates beautifully to Blu-ray. The image is strikingly crisp and detailed throughout, retaining its pronounced filmic texture rather than having it digitally smudged away. The palette throughout the bulk of the film is frigid and muted, and those chilly colors occasionally make way for Rebecca's hypersaturated flashbacks and fantasies as well as Ernessa's handcranked, black-and-white reflections on the past. Though perhaps this is a deliberate aspect of The Moth Diaries' stylized visuals, contrast is decidedly flat throughout. The choice of film stock doesn't hold up well under low light, and fine detail has a tendency to get lost in the shadows. I'm sure all of that dates back to production, however, and can't be considered flaws introduced by this Blu-ray disc. I don't really have any concerns about the authoring at all, which wisely shies away from excessive noise reduction, compression artifacting, or artificial edge enhancement. I'm sure it's as strong a presentation as the original photography will allow.

The Moth Diaries is served up on a single layer Blu-ray disc. The presentation is lightly letterboxed to preserve its intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and has been encoded with AVC.

The Moth Diaries takes a very subdued approach to horror, so it follows that its 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack tends to be rather understated as well. There's rarely any cause for the subwoofer to start snarling, resulting in bass response that's generally modest. The surrounds are reserved almost entirely for light atmosphere, though they do nicely reinforce a few key effects, such as raining blood from a lacerated sky and...well, moths, like it says right there in the title. The clarity and detail offered by this lossless soundtrack are most apparent in the score, and it's reproduced on Blu-ray remarkably well. One oddity is how raw and unpolished the dialogue sounds early on. Most glaringly throughout the first reel or so, the levels are all over the place, sometimes it comes through as harsh, other times it's
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overly canned, occasionally it feels disconnected from the visuals around it... Either it got better or I just settled into it. Other than that, the audio's perfectly fine. Nothing you'll whip out to show off your home theater setup or anything, no, but fine just the same.

A 16-bit PCM stereo track has also been included. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.

  • Behind the Scenes (18 min.; HD): The Moth Diaries' making-of featurette spends most of its time running through the characters, in wide-eyed awe at all of these rivalries and friendships: the likes of which we're told have never really been captured on film before (?!?). I found some of the topics here interesting enough, though, such as The Moth Diaries being a Canadian/Irish co-production, shifting the backdrop forward from the Vietnam War to the present day, and spelling out precisely how many gallons of blood were sloshed around in that big money library sequence.

  • Video Diaries (13 min.; SD): Shot mostly (?) with a Flip HD camera yet presented in standard-def anyway, this set of video diaries captures The Moth Diaries' young cast between takes: rawkin' out to "White Wedding" on Rock Band 2, visiting a cheese shop, getting ready for the big levitation sequence, painting on a nosebleed, and taping Lily Cole as she tickles the ivories and belts out an old standard about cannibalism.

  • Featurette (2 min.; HD): With a witty, inventive title like that, you know you're in for a treat! It's a promotional piece where Mary Harron and her lead actors quickly recap the overall premise. You've already seen most of this footage in the other extras too.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last to bat is a high-def theatrical trailer.

The Final Word
Unrecognizable from her infectiously unrestrained adaptation of American Psycho a decade and change back, director Mary Harron has somehow managed to make a-vampire-in-an-all-girl-school tedious, aimless, and woefully uninvolving. The same as most teenage girls' diaries, it takes itself far, far too seriously despite its near-total lack of anything to write about, so...yeah, Skip It.
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