The Moth Diaries
Posted by Holly
Vampires are a classic staple of horror that have captivated storytellers for centuries. Still, they are somehow incredibly difficult to get just right. Make them too rough, and they lose the romantic flair that seems to draw people’s attention so consistently. Make them too soft, and you end up with a wreck like Twilight. The Moth Diaries tackles this well-trodden path in an interesting way, and while the execution isn’t perfect, it does succeed in some of its pursuits.
The story follows Rebecca, a sixteen year old girl, enrolled in a private girls’ boarding school. Occasionally withdrawn and teetering on depression, she still struggles with the memories of her father, a well-known poet, and his suicide. The one thing that seems to keep her sane is the comfort of knowing at school she’ll be reunited with her best friend, Lucy, and the rest of their friends – but the appearance of a new girl in the school, named Ernessa, seems to change everything.
Ernessa’s behavior is strange and alarming to Rebecca, often making unnerving comments to her in private, but appearing completely normal and innocent to everyone else in public. Slowly, Rebecca’s friends group starts to dwindle, and it appears to be Ernessa’s doing, with her sights set on taking Lucy away from her next. Obsessed with Ernessa, and desperate to keep her closest friend, Rebecca begins to suspect that Ernessa is not quite what she seems to everyone else – and isn’t quite human.
First of all, this film really does a great job showcasing the complexities of female friendships and relationships. That some, while supportive and loving, can fall apart, or be destroyed by things like jealousy, competitiveness, and apathy. It’s almost entirely female-driven, and the main character’s relationships with the women around her are deeply explored. The women in this have relationships with realistic struggles, rather than the vapid and catty “frenemy” model so frequently seen in modern media. I imagine the fact that this film is written, produced, and directed by women has a large part in that – as well as the source material being a novel also written by a woman. The film really does seem to understand the point of view of the women it’s depicting, and it’s a refreshing change.
Direct parallels are drawn in-film between Ernessa and the story of Carmilla, a vampire novella predating Dracula that famously had large amounts of lesbian subtext. With this, Ernessa’s behavior takes on a vampiric likeness to Rebecca, as she systematically ‘drains’ each and every person Rebecca cares about. Lucy is, of course, a reference to the classic story of Dracula, and her tragic end also seems to be fitting for the comparison. I enjoyed the nods to the classic gothic take on vampires, and the focus on Carmilla in particular. The film doesn’t shy away from the lesbian subtext of Carmilla, and allows it to play out in the way Ernessa seduces her victims, and the possessive jealousy that overtakes Rebecca.
This brings me to what is, unfortunately, a great weakness in the film. Ernessa is presented in this vampiric way throughout most of the film, but it is implied towards the end that this is more of a haunting than anything. Seemingly unable to make up its mind, the film never fully confirms either option. In fact, there is a third lingering option that neither is true, and Rebecca is simply having a breakdown of sorts. As a result, the storyline becomes a little muddled and confusing, and the final confrontation between Rebecca and Ernessa is not as satisfying as it could be.
There is a secondary plot line, involving a male English teacher, who shows romantic interest in Rebecca. They share a kiss (initiated by him), which Rebecca seems to rebuff and be startled by, and then the story is dropped. The ethical questions there aren’t explored, nor are any consequences seen on screen. I feel it was a poor choice to present a situation about a potential abuse of power, with a lot of other weird implications, and then brush it aside.
I really want to recommend this film, but cautiously. It doesn’t really deliver the way it should have, storyline wise, and falls apart under close inspection. However, if you’re interested in a movie that explores female relationships, and has an eerie, old gothic horror feel to it, then you’ll probably enjoy this in spite of its plot holes.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5. Tons of potential, but falls short of what it could have been.
Scariness level: It has some deeply eerie moments, like seeing Ernessa outside of the window. And the scene in the library where she sings The Juniper Tree. Good lord. NIGHTMARE FUEL.
Violence level: On the low end, but with frequent discussion and imagery relating to suicide.
Bechdel test: Passes with flying colors.
Mako Mori test: Pass once again. Yay!
Related recommendations: Memento Mori, an atmospheric ghost story with a lesbian storyline.