I watched this because it was directed by the woman who directed American Psycho, a movie which I enjoyed and thought was well done. I wasn't disappointed in terms of direction. That was good enough considering what she had to work with.
Rebecca, a teen girl at a boarding school has a wonderful group of friends, including a best friend, Lucy, from whom she is inseparable. She is haunted by the dark memory of her father's suicide. A mysterious new student arrives, Ernessa, who charms away or even kills all of Rebecca's friends, and uses her supernatural allure to enthrall Lucy, who begins to shun Rebecca and waste away before her eyes. Is Ernessa the vampiric ghost of a woman who committed suicide in 1907, when the school was a hotel?
Yes. That's it. After all the build up, what was obvious all along, is all there is. After all her friends are expelled or dead, and after her favorite teacher tries to seduce her, Rebecca concludes that she herself was Ernessa's intended victim all along, pressuring her to follow in her father's footsteps and kill herself. Enraged, Rebecca finds the old trunk in the basement where Ernessa sleeps and sets it on fire. As she is being driven to the police station for questioning with regards to arson and murder, Rebecca experiences a catharsis and concludes that by killing Ernessa, she had set them both free.
This movie was set up perfectly to be a psychological thriller about the heritability of mental illness, Rebecca's struggle to come to terms with the abandonment she feels after her father's death, and her own paranoia about losing everything. Even the loose ends could have been wrapped up by a little more ambiguity: The physical resemblance between Ernessa and Rebecca, or Rebecca's favorite, trusted teacher's attempt to seduce her, or the recurring theme of sexual awakenings. I'm imagining something that's part Single White Female, with a little bit of dissociative identity thrown in (i.e., Ernessa as a Tyler Durden figure), wrapped up in a trendy vampire metaphor that explores the dark side of co-dependent friendships.
But no. It's a predictable story of vampire torments victim, victim destroys vampire, and the ending is happy, completely disregarding all the loss left in the wake. One or two creepy things are seen, mostly images of blood and suicide. There are no good startle moments, no good suspense moments. Just the plot that drags its way to an unsatisfactory conclusion.
As I said before, the direction is good. Not great, but good (the rain of blood scene was really just stupid). The story, as I've been explaining, is terrible. The script is unoriginal and at times even painful in terms of cliched or unrealistic dialogue that no one would ever say. Sarah Bolger (Rebecca) performs decently for the most part, with only a couple cliched screams, bad crying faces, etc. The character is mostly one-dimensional, and I commend her for her nuanced performance despite that significant set-back. Her voice-over narration, however, is extremely amateur, reminiscent of a non-actor high schooler reading a part aloud for English class. Sarah Goron (Lucy) is abysmal. She's completely flat, so that there's no difference between normal Lucy, enthralled Lucy, and deathly ill Lucy. For the latter, she does talk more slowly and quietly, but it's really the makeup that does the trick to demonstrate the extent of her weakness, not her acting. Lily Cole (Ernessa), does a mostly satisfactory job given what she has to work with. The only thing I've seen her in other than this is a mediocre Doctor Who episode, where she plays a mysterious siren kidnapping the passengers on a pirate ship, and turns out to be an alien medical computer program who takes life-forms in to heal them. She acts seductively when luring people away, and vicious when people try to interrupt her work. She has no dialogue, only singing and snarling. My point in this digression is that she plays both roles exactly the same way: Partly because of the script in The Moth Diaries and partly, I think, because of her own acting capabilities, the two characters could be interchangeable without changing either the episode or the movie in any meaningful way.
So, it fails as a psychological thriller and it fails as a decent supernatural suspense movie. If it can't be either of those, then any redeeming qualities (directing, Bolger's acting) don't matter very much.
I give it two stars instead of one because I did make it through the whole thing, and it had enough of a veneer that I didn't cringe at every little exchange or plot element. I wish I'd chosen something else to watch last night, but it's not the end of the world that I did.