Feminist filmmaker Mary Harron has made some bold and provocative choices in past films such as "I Shot Andy Warhol," "American Psycho" and "The Notorious Bettie Page." She is not afraid to push things to the edge of reason and watch them topple over with an in-your-face glee. So I'm shocked by the tepid and somewhat unfocused "The Moth Diaries." The film seems to be borne of some interesting ideas, but it never effectively builds in intensity. The picture is lovely, to be sure, with breathy performances, gauzy flashbacks and ethereal fantasy sequences--but does it amount to much? I didn't think so. Pretty, but empty. That's the first phrase that popped into my head as the credits started to roll. Taking a popular young adult novel by Rachel Klein, Harron's choices here appear content to ape the underdeveloped emotions inherent in the Twilight saga as opposed to creating something that felt distinct or unique.
Set in an all-girl boarding school, "The Moth Diaries" opens with an introduction to Rebecca (Sarah Bolger). A troubled girl rebuilding her life after a tragedy, she is really getting back into the swing of things with a close knit group of friends. A creepy new student (Lily Cole) starts to worm her way into the group and strange occurrences abound. Is Rebecca justifiably suspicious of the new girl? Or might it just be jealousy? After all, she is losing her best friend's devotion to this exotic new rival. With vampire allusions aplenty and some seemingly supernatural sightings, we're left to wonder what is real and what might be the imaginings of the increasingly distraught Rebecca. The solution, when it arrives, is neither particularly shocking or even interesting. As the entire film unfolds in one monotonous dimension, no suspense is ever really derived from the tale.
I think the fundamental issue is that lack of adequate character development. All of the girls (and even the staff) start to be affected, but I wasn't invested in any of them. As such, it became hard to care about their respective fates. It doesn't help that the picture has a sporadic (and deadly wooden) narration by Bolger or that a poorly handled subplot involving a male teacher (the likable Scott Speedman) halts the forward momentum of the narrative. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film is the Sapphic subtext as the girls form unnaturally close bonds. As alluded to in the movie, gothic tales such as this always have sex, death, and blood. After proclaiming this, though, the movie shies away from this aspect and leaves it largely unexplored. Harron opted to stay in the tween angst realm in this adaptation and the movie lacks an edginess that might have upped the danger and excitement. I didn't hate "The Moth Diaries," if anything I'm apathetic about it. It might very well have made a great movie, but everything feels thoroughly undercooked. About 2 1/2 stars. KGHarris, 8/12.