The Moth Diaries

The Moth Diaries

Lily Cole as Ernessa in Mary Harron's THE MOTH DIARIES. An IFC Films release.

The Moth Diaries (2011/2012)

Opened: 04/20/2012 Limited

IFC Center04/20/2012 - 04/26/20127 days
NoHo 704/27/2012 - 05/03/20127 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: Irish/Canadian Horror

Rated: R for for some bloody images, sexuality, drug use and language.


Acclaimed director Mary Harron (AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE) returns with the chilling story of Rebecca (Sarah Bolger), a young girl who, haunted by her father's suicide, enrolls in an elite boarding school for girls. Before long, Rebecca's friendship with the popular Lucy (Sarah Gadon) is shattered by the arrival of a dark and mysterious new student named Ernessa (Lily Cole). Lucy falls under Ernessa's spell and becomes emotionally and physically consumed by her glamorous new friend.

Rebecca, whose overtures of concern are rejected by Lucy, finds herself lost and confused. She begins to develop a crush on her handsome English teacher, Mr. Davies (Scott Speedman) and immerses herself in the Gothic vampire novel Carilla for his class. Rebecca starts to suspect that Ernessa is a vampire, but, despite the suspicious deaths that begin to occur, her fears are treated as simple girlish jealousy. As the bodies of young girls pile up and the line between reality and the supernatural starts to blur, Rebecca decides to take matters into her own hands and get rid of Ernessa.

Who can say what is real and what is unreal to the heart consumed by passion and a mind afire with loss? Based on the bestselling novel by Rachel Klein, THE MOTH DIARIES is a harrowing story of the anxieties, lusts and fears of adolescence.

A Note from the Author: Rachel Klein

I still remember my adolescence with striking clarity while the intervening years have blurred together. Up till then, my existence had felt like a dress rehearsal for my "real" life. To enter that new life I needed to learn about desire, love, passion, jealousy, hatred, disappointment, because that new life was all about emotional intensity. With all that came the first intimations of death. The future attracted me and terrified me in equal measure. The vampire is a beautiful and apt metaphor for that flirtation, promising us that, if we panic and turn back in terror, we can stay young and unformed forever.

In her film adaptation of my novel, Mary Harron has captured this profound ambivalence with a stunning emotional power. I wanted readers to reach a place where they felt that everything, no matter how insignificant, was at stake. In that voyage, they could not hide behind the conventions of a genre or a sexualized fairy tale.

Mary Harron takes us straight to that place with indelible images and deeply moving scenes. Her young actresses have given themselves completely to the spirit of the novel and captured the dreaminess and vulnerability of our young selves--all this, while showing us how quickly the everyday can be transformed into a nightmare of paranoia and obsession. And sometimes simply choosing to live can be the most difficult decision of all.

A Note from the Director: Mary Harron

THE MOTH DIARIES is above all a story about teenage girls and their passionate friendships. These intense attachments form when girls pour all their emotions into each other because, as the narrator Rebecca says in the novel, they are not ready for "the big world of sex and men." This is a world that has rarely been captured on film. Picnic at Hanging Rock, Heavenly Creatures and The Virgin Suicides come to mind, but more often girl friendship is more likely to be portrayed in light teen comedies, leaving the darker undercurrents unexplored.

The novel The Moth Diaries is also a re-working of Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla, the female vampire tale that preceded, and helped inspire, Bram Stoker's Dracula. (It is because Rebecca is actually reading Carmilla that she first begins to suspect Ernessa). In these early Gothic stories the nature of the vampire's need is left ambiguous, and that is what makes these characters so enthralling: our own imaginations fill in the blanks. The vampire's hunger is physical, but tinged with something erotic and emotional. That's what makes it such a perfect metaphor for bad relationships: people do feed off others, they do try and take over one another, and friendships can be deadly.

One of the things I loved about the book is that it made the supernatural a parable for all the things that girls go through in adolescence. With her body changing and swelling and her emotions running riot, a girl's adolescent transformation is like her own personal horror movie. The way the book took aspects of teenage pain like anorexia and self-harming and suicidal thoughts and used the vampire myth to explore them was something I had never seen before.

This is not a traditional horror film. There are no fangs. The danger here is internal: the pain of lost friendship, the madness of jealousy, the seduction of suicide, the fear of growing up. The school is a dark cocoon, like adolescence itself, and if Rebecca is to survive she must find a way to break out and join the adult world.

About the Production

Director Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page) first encountered the novel THE MOTH DIARIES, written by Rachel Klein, in 2006. "I read it in one night. As soon as I started reading it, I could see it as a movie," remembers Harron, who was intrigued by the idea of doing a story about teenage girls, realizing that her own daughter would be a teenager by the time the film could be made. "I was immediately captivated by it," explains Harron of her instant attraction to the story, "It took me back to my own teenage years, to those intense, romantic friendships that young girls have. It's an extremely visual book -- it's like a fever dream of adolescence, and that's what I wanted the movie to be."

Klein understood the connection Harron felt to the story. "I think that she was attracted to the book because she had two young daughters," says Klein. "She was really intrigued by the idea of their adolescence and how they would evolve. I wrote the book at a time when my young daughters were in their adolescence -- I think that was really the connection between the two of us." Various studios optioned her novel THE MOTH DIARIES before it made its way into Harron's hands. "It was kind of a convoluted process, as with many films, and it went through a couple of options with different studios," says the author, eventually being optioned by Harron herself.

Though Harron communicated with author Klein, she wrote the script herself. "I think we saw the book the same way, we were attracted by the same things, we both love the Gothic tradition and we were both interested in making the emotions of the young girls very real," explains Harron. "She wrote a novel that had a supernatural framework but was intensely emotional. The book is like a fever dream of adolescence, and that is what I wanted the film to be."

Klein likes Harron's take on her novel but sees the film as being different than the book, while still remaining true to the essence of the story and many of its details. "It was pretty obvious from the beginning that we were on the same page -- she understood the book and all of its nuances, and she went from there. I was actually surprised at how closely the movie followed the novel."

Executive Producer Edward R. Pressman, who previously produced Harron's American Psycho notes, "Mary's vision was of a more psychological supernatural film, like Rosemary's Baby, which would capture the intensity of young girls coming of age, which has really only been addressed in films like The Virgin Suicides or Heavenly Creatures. She presented her script, and I immediately jumped at the opportunity to work with her again." Harron was equally pleased to have someone as dedicated and determined as Pressman on board. Explains Harron, "I know that Ed is very dogged. Once he decides to make a project, he never lets it go. I have to pay tribute to his incredible determination; we both soldiered on."

Producer Karine Martin, CEO of Mediabiz International, has an ongoing relationship with Pressman via her Mediabiz company and was excited when he and Harron brought her the project. The project then gained further momentum when executive producer Sandra Cunningham came on board. Sandra is known for her work with directors such as Atom Egoyan, Norman Jewison, Jeremy Podeswa and Robert Lepage to name a few. "When I read Mary's script I was immediately drawn to the idea of a Mary Harron teenage girl Vampire film. As a fan of her previous work, I knew Mary would find a way to turn the genre on its ear. The idea of working with Ed Pressman and partners Karine Martin and David Collins was also appealing", says Cunningham. But it was Harron's vision and understanding of the relationship between the girls that sold Martin on the project, "The film is a metaphor for this period of our lives as young women, when we're struggling to find our way to adulthood," explains Martin, "We felt that Mary, through the close and ambiguous relationship between the three girls, and the idea of someone sucking all the energy out of you effectively depicted that struggle."

Producer David Collins agrees, "I think growing up can be the most frightening thing anyone can do, man or woman, boy or girl, and it just captures what it is, how frightening it is to grow up." Collins first became aware of project when working on another project with Harron and her partner, John C. Walsh, in Ireland. Collins read and loved the script, and by that time that Irish actress Sarah Bolger had been cast in the lead role, so he started to investigate the possibility of an Canadian-Irish co-production. "We got some support from the Irish Film Board and that has really made it possible for me to be a proper co-production partner. Mary's Canadian, so the project was set up as a Canadian-Irish co-production, with the majority of the finance coming from Canada."

"The biggest obstacle we faced, was to make a film with a cast of young girls," explains Harron. "I have great faith in Mary's judgment [about] casting," explains Pressman. "I remember when we were doing American Psycho, she stuck to her guns with Christian Bale when many other more famous actors were interested, and she was right. So, when it came to THE MOTH DIARIES, I really trusted her." Pressman notes that Harron knew she wanted Lily Cole and Sarah Bolger from early on, and the time taken to finance the film gave leeway to be picky. "It took approximately 2 years to get the film financed, and during that time Mary had the luxury of going to England, Ireland, L.A., New York and Canada to find the best cast possible.

Irish actress Sarah Bolger (The Tudors, As Cool As I am) plays Rebecca, the protagonist character in THE MOTH DIARIES. Bolger auditioned for Harron in New York after Harron had seen her video audition. "I'm just thrilled that this movie happened, because it is such an amazing storyline," says Bolger. "I loved the book, which I actually heard about a year before making the movie".

"I was sent this tape, which is Sarah Bolger videoed by her mother with her younger sister reading the other lines for her," explains Harron. "After I saw that, I couldn't get her out of my mind; I'd found my Rebecca."

British model and actress Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Snow White and The Huntsman), who plays Ernessa, was studying History of Art at Cambridge University and couldn't miss classes to make it to the casting call that Harron was holding in London. Harron received a link to a video audition and remembers thinking, 'Lily Cole; she should read as Lucy. As soon as I watched it, I thought, 'She's Ernessa!' I never looked at anyone else; Lily completely transformed my idea of who Ernessa was. She has a wonderful period look, so I knew she'd be great playing Ernessa in the 1900s and Ernessa now."

Cole was instantly intrigued by the character of Ernessa. "When I first read the script, Ernessa was the only character that I really felt compelled towards, I think because she's quite strange," explains Cole, who says the deeper she got into the script, the more layers of meaning she found within the character and story. "To me there are these two contrasting possibilities -- that she's very dark in a way, the things she does and the world that's created around her is seemingly very dark, and yet there's a [contrasting] really light and truthful vein that runs through her and a lot of what she's saying."

Harron says that the hardest character to cast was Lucy. "She had to be very beautiful and something ethereal, she has to be dying beautifully, she has to be someone the girls are fighting over, there has to be something magical about her, you have to believe that she would waste away," explains the director. "In some ways she is a more passive character, which puts more demands on the actor."

Pre-production was underway before Lucy was cast, when Harron saw the audition of Canadian actress Sarah Gadon (La Femme Nikita, The Border, Being Erica, A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis) who recorded her audition on her computer while in Germany filming with David Cronenberg. Says Harron, "Again, as soon as I saw that video, I thought, 'Lucy, that's Lucy!' Sarah had both sweetness and depth. Crucially, you believed she was a friend the other girls would fight over; she was a kind of prize."

Harron cast the only important male character, the English teacher Mr. Davies, early on, as well. "I wanted someone handsome and young enough that it wouldn't seem creepy that Rebecca would have a crush on him. He also had to project real intelligence and be credible as a teacher," explains Harron, who chose British-born, Canadian-raised actor Scott Speedman (Barney's Version, The Strangers, Underworld, Felicity). "He's a new teacher at the school," explains Speedman. "He's an aspiring writer and sort of gets involved in an odd relationship with one of his students, which progresses throughout the film."

The central narrative of THE MOTH DIARIES focuses on the passionate and at times turbulent relationships between the girls, including the romance and angst of intense crushes between teenage girls as well as betrayals.

"Rebecca's gone through hell really," says Bolger, "her father committed suicide, her mother has distanced herself, she's lived a really hard life. School seems to be her happy place; then her life is interrupted by this new girl, Ernessa Bloch. It's a great character to play because we're not really sure what she is -- is she mentally ill, is there something wrong with Rebecca? It's great to have the audience wondering."

Gadon explains that Lucy is the type of girl that other girls want to be or want to be around: "I like to think of her as the ideal girl -- all the girls in the film look up to her, she's popular and athletic, and she's just the epitome of teenage-girl greatness."

Rebecca's old demons, the pain and despair she experienced after her father's suicide, are reawakened when she loses her idyllic friendship with Lucy. Says Bolger, "Lucy and Rebecca are in this bubble of intensity and Ernessa is this new girl in school, she comes into the picture and all of a sudden Lucy's attention is drawn to her. She becomes infatuated with this new girl and, as a result, Rebecca is kind of pushed to the side. You definitely see a transference of affection from one girl to another and how that affects the surrounding girls."

Cole believes few teen films really explore this territory. "This idea of adolescence is a really powerful theme in this film that I don't think is commonly explored in films," says Cole. "You have a group of girls and you get these kind of hysterical relationships and emotions that do verge on being love affairs. I think it's the intensity of those emotions that can give rise to the interpretation that Rebecca's just this obsessive, crazy girl."

Rebecca's relationship with Mr. Davies reflects another classic teenage girl syndrome, the romantic crush on a teacher. Of the discussions Harron and Speedman had about Mr. Davies, she says "We didn't want the character to come across as creepy," explains Harron "He's tempted by this young girl, but doesn't set out to seduce her or to do anything bad, he just falls into this," explains Harron. "He doesn't understand what he's caught up in, he doesn't understand what she's telling him when she tries to confide in him about Ernessa -- he's just trapped in his own weakness, not a horrible person, just flawed."

Speedman agrees that he tried to "base it in some sort of real relationship, a sincere fondness for the young girl. I think he becomes intoxicated in a way, he becomes addicted to her in a certain way."

Although the book is set in the 1960s, Harron decided to give the film a contemporary setting. "I feel like it is a period film and a modern film in one, because the setting of the school is very old-fashioned and traditional, and indeed it's more old-fashioned than most boarding schools: it's still single sex, all girls, the uniform is very strict. I like the idea of these modern young girls trapped in the past of this school which represents tradition, formality and the past itself. The young girls break out and go a bit crazy; they have a party in their rooms or take drugs. At night when they're on their own you see them wearing street clothes, but during the school day, the attire is very formal and strict."

Production Designer Sylvain Gingras didn't have much lead-time to help Harron create the contemporary-yet-Gothic look and feel of the film. "The look is something that evolved through the course of pre-production. For the sets, there's a timeless quality. It's not really a period film -- the story is set in 2010, but in the school we have a timeless feeling, where the furniture and everything feels a little old and contributes to the drama in this way," says Gingras.

Location manager Pierre Blondin found the perfect location--a monastery in the town of Oka, Quebec--and a perfect stand-in for the girls' school, with its historic, Gothic feel and extensive grounds. "This building used to be used by monks and people used to come here for retreats," explains production designer Gingras, "There are quite a few buildings similar to this in the region, but the advantage of this one is that it's empty. It's very rare that we can get a location where we have the freedom of choosing where we want to shoot and a variety of rooms to choose from," says Gingras. "The great thing about this space is that it really has this institutional architecture feel, with the moldings and the details, the width of the corridor and the height of the ceilings."

The visual effects in the movie were a mixture of old and new. Some elements, like the moths, were entirely CGI, created by the Irish company Windmill Lane, while the fire and blood in the film were done practically, then boosted in post using some digital enhancement. Harron says, "I believe, and the artists at Windmill Lane agreed, that the more you can do for real, the better. I felt very strongly that the blood in the library should be done with real blood--well, real fake blood--even though it was enormously difficult to do that on location. We filmed the scene in the chapel at Oka, trying not to get any red stains on all the wood and the white marble floor. "

Imagination Versus Reality

The supernatural elements in THE MOTH DIARIES are rooted in the real experience of a young girl faced with her emerging sexuality and caught in a web of obsessive friendship, jealousy and betrayal.

Lily Cole is reticent to call it a vampire movie. "In the current climate, where vampire movies are all the rage, it brings other associations. The word vampire is a lot more open-ended than perhaps the connotations these days make it and the metaphorical idea of it is much more important. I found that watching Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, there was similar interesting dialogue between the possibility that it was all witchcraft and these supernatural events were really happening, and this idea that Mia Farrow's character could be completely nuts -- and that was also such an amazing possibility." The tension between the real and the imagined, the natural and the supernatural, imbues THE MOTH DIARIES with much of its suspense and psychological tension.

Sarah Bolger says, "As Rebecca, I see this as a 100 percent vampire story, and I am sold that Ernessa Bloch is a vampire who is ruining my life. But as Sarah Bolger, I see the ambiguity, and how you're left with a question at the end. I would like the audience to not be completely sure."