Wednesday, April 18, 2012

THE MOTH DIARIES: Mary Harron's back, with a taste of girls-school melo-horror

You've heard of melodrama, right? A kind of drama-lite that can still be quite entertaining. Now, the sometimes noted filmmaker Mary Harron (on the plus side, I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho; on the more middling, The Notorious Bettie Page) has come up with something I'd call melo-horror. Her newest film THE MOTH DIARIES is now-and-then scary but it also, quite deliberately I suspect, fudges the horror to arrive at something, well, a lot more perverse: a stew of incipient fright, friendship, (very) late adolescence, lesbian love/schoolgirl romance, family loss and maybe budding psychosis. None of which jells but all of which maintains at least passing interest.

Ms Harron, shown at right, teases us with all of these ingredients, and she and her excellent casting department (Kerry Bardem, Paul Schnee and Rosina Bucci) have peopled her movie with a nice array of young talent, most of whom I don't recall having seen previously but who certainly make up an interesting assortment of schoolgirls worth watching and rooting for (or against). The exception -- an actress whom I have seen several times, and who always seems different, and I mean hugely different, from role to role -- is young woman named Lily Cole.

Ms Cole (above and at left) is a chameleon of sorts. Recall her, if you can, in films as diverse as her debut (St. Trinian's) or her most amazing role (in Sally Potter's Rage) to The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and one of the worst Spanish Civil War movies ever (There Be Dragons). Yep: They're all with Ms Cole. Either she's quite the (not so) little actress, or her directors sure know how to use her properly. Ms Harron does, too.
Cole's role is that of Ernessa -- not the film's protagonist: That would be Sarah Bolger, above, as Rebecca -- the "new girl"/catalyst who comes to the school and appears to change everything. Or maybe not. Part of the oddness (and I admit it, the fun) of the film comes from the fact that things may not nearly be what they seem to our protagonist, who has suffered a major loss and may not be bouncing back from it quite as well as she thinks.

There are sub-plots aplenty -- a helpful or not teacher (Scott Speedman, above) and the various special problems of several of the students -- and even more subsidiary characters to follow, yet none of these are brought to much fruition. Instead we concentrate on Ernessa and her maybe other-worldly powers. And while Ms Cole proves a worthy vessel for our concentration, the mashup of possible horror with the pangs of adolescence and family trauma doesn't finally amount to much: too few scares and/or special effects for the horror crowd, but not enough depth and intelligence for the serious set.

The Moth Diaries (85 minutes, via IFC Films) opens this Friday, April 20 in New York City at the IFC Center. It has also been playing for the past month on VOD and will continue there, if you prefer an at-home movie experience.

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