Recently, at the Toronto International Film Festival, while viewing some of the most high-profile, innovative, and challenging films of the year, I was somehow compelled to attend a screening of a little movie called The Moth Diaries, scheduled alongside some of the most anticipated and critically acclaimed releases of 2011.
I won't beat around the bush. Instead, I will make a simple statement now to give rest of what is written here some context. I wouldn't want any reader to believe my statements are hyperbole or farcical parody. There is no irony or sarcasm here, no attempt at satire. You're going to hear about this movie sooner or later, if only because so much money has obviously been sunk into it that it has to find some poor sucker of a distributor and leech out into the world. When you do, I want you to at least be armed with this small fact:
The Moth Diaries is the worst film I have ever seen.
Most avid moviegoers will say this phrase at least once a year, and I count myself no exception. You'll watch a Mr. Popper's Penguins or an Insidious and you'll say, "That was the worst movie I've ever seen." It's fun to do, it puts the offending film into a category of judgment, and has come to mean, over the years, nothing more than, "I really didn't like it."
But no. I have never seen a film worse than this. I have seen terrible, terrible movies. Movies that never should have been made. Movies that no one should have ever considered making. But this Moth Diaries, this atrocity, was the absolute worst experience I have ever had in a movie theater, and I saw Battlefield Earth in a theater occupied by a live, rabid raccoon.
Perhaps the synopsis compelled me to give it a chance. Certainly no one forced me to watch the film. The basic premise is a new student at an all-girls school is acting peculiar, and one scrappy pupil begins to suspect the newcomer may be a vampire. As she investigates, a series of strange occurrences strengthen her case, and threaten the well-being of her and her close circle of friends. Fine. Good enough. Even now I would happily watch that movie, knowing what awaits me. There's something about the premise that is satisfying to me, and it's apparently an adaptation of a fairly popular young-adult novel. Lord knows those have been doing well lately.
What unfolded was the most ill-conceived attempt to cash in on the recent success of the Twilight series and Harry Potter adaptations since Vampire Werewolf Magic Academy 3: The Howlenator, which is an awful movie I just made up, stars Dolph Lundgren as an angsty teenage mummy, and is still, somehow, better than The Moth Diaries.
The film spends a lot of time with a group of teenage girls attending a private boarding school and spends far too little time attempting to employ any kind of realistic dialogue between them. They are depicted as being capricious and using drugs, and dancing in circles alone in their rooms. Sloppy and ham-fisted attempts at slang are inserted at random like a 50-year-old screenwriter attempting to pound a square dollar-value into a round paycheck. If the script took longer than a week to adapt from the novel, whatever the quality of the original work, I would have to assume the screenwriter took a nap in between each sentence, and typed using only two fingers on one hand, to preserve the remainig digits for future revisions.
It seems the director, Mary Harron, has been attempting to regain some of the lost thunder from her previous adapted film, American Psycho, by flinging herself haphazardly toward whatever project seems the most controversial in the treatment, but after seeing this film one can't help but wonder what stars aligned, what blissful serendipity allowed that cult hit to slip through the fingers of someone who clearly has no concept of story, character, or self-control. At no point during the production did she say any of the following:
"Yes, Lily Cole is a supermodel, in the most tenuous sense of the word. Yes, she has been on magazines. But no, that does not qualify her to play the brooding, treacherous, poorly-named 'Ernessa,' the neophyte-cum-vampire in my modern gothic tragedy. If anything, after a quick Google search, she seems to better qualify for the starring role in the next Chucky."
"Yes, the blood looks great when it is sparingly dripping on the girl, but it is indiscernible from cranberry juice at any other point during this scene we've obviously cribbed from Carrie. Do we have anything thicker? Perhaps we could bleed a couple of the extras and make do with that?"
"What do you mean this film actually doesn't have any vampires?!"
No. Rather, she glossed over mistake after misstep after delusion, quietly sitting in the corner on set and... what? Counting the money? I'll admit, if the film has anything going for it, it's a high level of production value. There were obviously backers here; it was not produced on a shoestring budget. If anything, it makes it worse. The cinematography is of such quality that the terrible acting, the abysmal writing, and the pervasively downright laughable effects are that much more insulting to the viewer. There is a recurring theme involving a CGI luna moth that... I mean, I can't even describe the level of apathy that must have gone into its production. They would have been better off using an origami birthday napkin on a string. The makers of this film routinely made terrible decisions throughout its production, and not once did any of them simply stand up and say, "Hey, listen everyone. This thing is pretty terrible. We're going to have to stop for a while and at least figure out what's wrong before we continue. Otherwise... everybody's fired. Especially me."
Normally I don't go out of my way to view "bad" movies. There is a large contingent of movie-lovers out there who watch Manos: The Hands of Fate, and genuinely enjoy the experience, but I find it difficult to do that and still have a good time. I have a good time watching good movies. I don't like watching old monster flicks and terrible kung-fu dubs. There are too many fantastic films out there I haven't seen yet to waste my time on irony. Normally, I wouldn't tell someone to watch a film just because it was, "soooo bad!" But I want everyone to see this film. Please, if only for my sake. You see, I'm carrying this burden alone. No one has seen this thing, and I can't fully convey how truly, truly abhorrent it is to anyone who has not experienced this unique and dismal horror.
I also can't explain how completely offended I was by a film of such absolute terrible quality playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, one of the preeminent festivals in the world. After the theater let out, as I was walking the streets of an unfamiliar city, I found myself quietly mumbling under my breath, ranting to myself, dissecting every detail of the film, attempting to tease out any saving grace, and furious at whatever dark entities had allowed this aberration into existence to begin with. I was powerless, and yet felt they should pay.
Waiting in line for the next film I was to see, TIFF projected live tweets from attending critics and friends of the festival on a nearby wall. As I watched, a single line, unfinished, scrolled briefly past and away from view:
"The Moth Diaries: Absolutely one of the worst films I have ever..."
Well. At least I know they meant it.