Sunday, Sep. 18, 2011

The Moth Diaries

Three things every vampire story shares, a hunky new teacher (Scott Speedman) tells his students at a cloistered girls' high school, are sex, blood and death. The first two elements come up short in screenwriter-director Mary Harron's take on the Rachel Klein novel about Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), a sensitive girl who is wracked by her poet-father's suicide and believes that the life of her BFF Lucie (Sarah Gadon) is getting vampirically sucked out by the black-clad English exchange student Ernessa (Lily Cole). Is Rebecca onto something, or is her private tragedy, mixed with her jealousy over losing Lucie to Ernessa, summoning the demons in her own mind? That's the central issue of Klein's book; but Harron soft-pedals the hallucination angle in favor of a standard reprise of repressed teen libidos and creatures of the night.

Lesbian vampires have long haunted the B-level horror genre, especially in the '70s with such fangs-for-the-mammaries temptations as Roy Ward Baker's The Vampire Lovers, Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness and José Larraz's Vampyres. Harron (who — fun fact — dated Tony Blair back in the '70s) ought to be up to the challenge: she surely did right by American Psycho a decade ago, casting Christian Bale as the Yuppie serial killer in her adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's darkly comic novel. But Harron sucks the juice out of this tale, leaving only the pulp. She includes just enough glimpses of naked flesh and violent death to win the film an R, not enough to weave an entrancing spell.

Of the 20something actresses playing 16-year-old girls, the Irish Bolger (a charmer as a kid in the 2002 In America) exudes a tremulous, sympathetic authenticity; Gadon (Michael Fassbender's straitlaced wife in A Dangerous Method, also at TIFF) makes a fine, vulnerable Lucie; and Cole, known primarily as a fashion model, has the right hauteur and full-moon face for a vampire-in-waiting. All three do work that would suit a better movie than this pallid shocker with little heart and no bite.