There's a curious trend that has developed in the realm of mid-budget horror movies; politeness. Or, if not quite politeness, at least a desire for respectability. There have been a lot of movies lately that go through the motions of a horror film, but remove from it anything that might offend in an attempt to be viewed as 'legitimate.' Films like The Tall Man, Intruders, and last night's entry The Moth Diaries all look like horror movies, and they certainly have all the signifiers of a horror movie, but they don't actually feel like one. In a low budget horror film, you'll usually see people striving to either shock or offend, or at the very least offer something that distinguishes their film from everything else on the crowded shelves.Whether or not they're successful is another matter, but the attempt is usually there. This often results in films that may not be good, but are at least interesting. In a large budget film, the studios usually know they're trying to appeal to a specific audience, and tailor it largely to them(that is, outside of the current trend towards PG-13). But with mid-budget films like the ones mentioned, they seem to be striving for acceptance from those stuffy critics who normally look down on horror, and it results in bland, uninteresting and forgettable films.
The Moth Diaries, a vampire film set at an all-girl boarding school, seems ripe for the type of grand, sensual, gothic filmmaking that typifies the best films in the subgenre. Bram Stoker's Dracula is a complete mess of a film, with astoundingly bad performances from nearly every actor(they all seem to think they're in a different film), but it's still an incredible experience when watching it, due primarily to the great visual style and gusto and a willingness to revel in the seediness of the story from time to time. The Moth Diaries, unfortunately, decides to drain all of that blood from the veins of the story, and what we're left with is a movie that looks like it should be scary, but never even becomes spooky.
Sarah Bolger plays Rebecca, returning to her boarding school and excited to see her friends again, particularly Lucie(Sarah Gadon), with whom she's formed a special connection. Complicating this is the arrival of the otherworldly and mysterious Ernessa(Lily Cole, who looks like one of those Virgin Madonna statues given life), who seems to exert a weird influence over Lucie. I've just listed the major characters of The Moth Diaries, but the real star of this film is cinematographer Declan
Quinn, who wraps the film in warm lush tones and provides much of the
gothic aura the rest of the film lacks. The film, if nothing else, looks
gorgeous. There are a couple of scenes near the end of the film that
stand out, due mainly to how much they contrast with the staidness of
everything that came before. The film is completely devoid of anything that may actually startle or scare the audience. It's R rating comes from, I'm assuming, one scene in which you see a woman's breasts, because everything else in the film is strictly PG.
The movie never comes out and says that this trio of girls share the love that dare not speak its name, and in fact it contorts itself greatly to avoid that implication, but it seems pretty clear that's what the original intention was. It's an example of how fearful this film is of seeming prurient, and it extends to the rest of the movie as well, which treats the blood-soaked Vampire myth as bloodlessy as possible. In all fairness, there are two or three scenes that acknowledge the existence of blood and/or sex; a classmate asks Rebecca to stand guard while she hooks up with a boy from a nearby school; Rebecca dreams of this classmate having uncomfortable sex; one of Rebecca's teachers kisses her and moves to unbutton her shirt before she runs off. But these scenes are treated fairly perfunctorily, and the movie rushes to get past them. It's not that I need a lot of sex in my horror films, but it seems dishonest to set your story in such a heated, sealed off environment and then pretend that sex doesn't exist. For a better example of how to incorporate the hormonal changes of youth with a horror film without becoming exploitative, check out the excellent Ginger Snaps, which cleverly marries Werewolf mythology with the female menstrual cycle and the general process of puberty.