As the hunky new teacher (Scott Speedman) tells his students at a cloistered girls’ high school, every vampire story shares three elements: sex, blood and death. The first two items come up short in screenwriter-director Mary Harron’s oddly anodyne adaptation of the Rachel Klein novel. “I’m a very deep sleeper,” says The Moth Diairies’ teen vampire; but it’s the movie itself that’s unduly slumberous.
Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), a sensitive girl wracked by her poet-father’s recent suicide, 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? Could Rebecca be just another teen who takes literature too literally, transferring Lucy in Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel — one of the vampire’s most succulent victims — into her own friend Lucie? 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. Setting such a tale in a girls’ school seems like inspiration: the early teen years, when a girl’s body may bloom before her mind can deciper the changes, and when friendships and love affairs both have volcanic impact, are a perfect age for a blend of fears and fantasies. It might point The Moth Diaries toward the killer comedy of Heathers, the unleashed predatory unisexuality of Jennifer’s Body.
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. Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol, with Mad Men’s Jared Harris as the artist and Lili Taylor as his would-be assassin Valerie Solanas, also had a roguish intelligence and a gift for x-raying the emotions of a troubled young woman.
(READ: Corliss’s review of American Psycho)
In her new film, she gets the superficial ambiance right: the school is dusty, with motes and moths fuzzing up the screen, and every night seems to have a full moon. But she sucks the psychic juice out of this tale, leaving only the pulp. She includes just enough glimpses of exposed flesh and violent death to earn the film an R rating, not enough to weave an entrancing spell. Harron’s approach here is similar to that of her 2005 bio-pic, The Notorious Bettie Page: a full-bodied subject with only a bloodless effect.
(READ: Corliss on the real Bettie Page and The Notorious Bettie Page)
Of the 20-something actresses playing 16-year-old girls, the Irish Bolger (such a charmer as a displaced kid in the 2002 In America) exudes a tremulous, sympathetic authenticity, and Gadon (Michael Fassbender’s straitlaced wife in A Dangerous Method) makes a fine, vulnerable Lucie. Cole, known primarily as a fashion model, has the right hauteur for a vampire-in-waiting; her giant eyes, tiny mouth and full-moon face make her look like a Betty Boop of the undead. All three give performances that would suit a better movie than this pallid shocker with little heart and no bite.