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The Moth Diaries **

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Early reviews have argued that director Mary Harron has fallen below her previous level (American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page) with The Moth Diaries. They might better have emphasized the intelligent skill that Harron, who scripted with Rachel Klein from Klein’s novel, has brought to such generic goods. Maybe those reviewers wanted another soapy Twilight swoon or extravagant piffle such as Dark Shadows.

The appealing Sarah Bolger stars as Rebecca, returning to her third year at a posh female prep school, formerly a Victorian hotel. Daughter of a suicidal poet whom she idolized, she burrows into friendship with Lucie (Sarah Gadon). But Lucie is lured into the chilly orbit of a new girl, the tall Ernessa (Lily Cole), a vampire with gothic roots in the old hotel. Harron and photographic-ace Declan Quinn create a lush, moody, whispery ambience of secrets, moonstruck walks, erotic rivalry, repressive authority, nocturnal blood, and a sexy teacher (Scott Speedman).

The use of moths is sensual, like the creepy plant moments in Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The atmospherics pivot on Bolger’s fine, layered performance. We do wonder why Ernessa, who came from the past to recruit Rebecca, needs to dispatch other victims. The finish provides standard payoffs (blood gushing in a library, curdling screams, a burning coffin), as if hoping to satisfy dull clunks. But this does not, like the idiotic ending of Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, collapse into total hokum.

Read the full movie column here.

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