Rating: 1/5What the fuck happened to Mary Harron? Once one of the most controversial and interesting directors in North America, Harron more or less disappeared after American Psycho in 2000, popping up with a few television credits over the next few years and only returning in 2005 with the largely forgettable The Notorious Bettie Page. Because Harron seems to only work in five year cycles, the formerly promising director is back again with a work that is nowhere near as forgettable as her last directorial effort but only because it’s so entirely stupid and awkward that it’s almost impossible to not be enraged over.
Set in an anonymous boarding school for “troubled” girls, The Moth Diaries attempts to be an examination of the horrors of puberty a la Ginger Snaps, except it manages to fail in every single possible way that that film succeeds. Where Ginger Snaps hinged on a strong central dynamic between its two protagonists, who were bonded against impending womanhood, The Moth Diaries is aimless and confused about the dynamic between its larger cast. At the center is Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), who literally begins the school year by telling her best friend Lucie (Sarah Gadon) that “this is going to be the best year ever!” Needless to say, the year that follows is by no means “the best ever” unless you’re really into unfortunate incidents and ridiculous interpersonal drama.
That’s because the spooky, pouty Ernessa (Lily Cole) shows up to, like, totally ruin everything. Ernessa sets about stealing Lucie from Rebecca and making everyone as miserable as possible, but because Rebecca doesn’t know how to communicate without speaking in the kind of blunt melodramatic statements you normally only see in a Lifetime original movie, no one believes Rebecca’s insinuations about Ernessa and her possible supernatural existence. Where previous Harron efforts like American Psycho and I Shot Andy Warhol felt extremely vibrant and alive, The Moth Diaries floats by on an air of insane detachment, with every character speaking in the same stilted robotic style and plot points rolling out with no rhyme or reason other than, hey, you need to fill those 82 minutes somehow.
Harron’s film is such a ridiculous failure that it almost demands viewing, in much the same way that Troll 2 or The Room do. Like The Room, The Moth Diaries is especially prone to narrative detours that seem important but are completely forgotten moments after being introduced, like a subplot that finds one of Rebecca’s teachers making a move on her, or another character losing her virginity as Rebecca flashes back to what appears to be a rape. And like Troll 2, The Moth Diaries almost feels as though its issues came from a language barrier between cast and crew…except that the film is an Irish-Canadian co-production and not a hyper low budget collision between a crazy Italian and random suburbanites. Regardless of the similarities, though, those films were the works of amateurs with more ambition than sense, while The Moth Diaries is a depressingly subpar effort from a director who once demanded attention not for the lunacy of her efforts but because she refused to be like everybody else. See it not because it has any legitimate value, but because it’s a harrowing, albeit strangely entertaining, depiction of how far Harron has fallen.