TORONTO — Making a film about the intense bond between teenage girls raised an unexpected roadblock for director Mary Harron — her vision didn’t include enough hot guys.
The American Psycho director says it took years to get her vampire tale “The Moth Diaries” off the ground in Hollywood, in large part because there weren’t enough young male characters to presumably attract a wider audience.
“There’s not many movies on the subject — Heavenly Creatures, The Virgin Suicides Picnic at Hanging Rock . . . . There’s just very few movies that have really addressed the intensity of the all-girl female world,” Harron said in September when she brought the Irish-Canadian horror to the Toronto International Film Festival.
“Usually, especially in Hollywood, they want to put hot boys in it in order to sell. This was my big problem in financing it — it’s like, ‘Oh, nobody wants to do a movie with just teenage girls.’ . . . The fact that people haven’t done it is what makes it exciting to me.”
Harron’s gothic-tinged coming-of-age story is set at an all-girl boarding school, with Toronto-bred Scott Speedman portraying the rare male character — a hunky teacher who sparks the paranoia of a fragile student when he assigns Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s vampire story Carmilla.
Sarah Bolger (The Tudors) stars as the melancholy Rebecca, whose emotions remain raw from the suicide of her father two years earlier. She finds solace in the intense relationships she has forged with her classmates, especially her vibrant best friend Lucy, played by Sarah Gadon (A Dangerous Method).
Things take a turn with the arrival of a mysterious English student, Ernessa, played by British model-turned-actress Lily Cole.
Eerily mature and possessing a hypnotic gaze, Ernessa becomes fast friends with Lucy and raises the ire — and suspicions — of an increasingly possessive Rebecca.
“In a way, Ernessa’s a return to more the old-school gothic vampire where they’re charming, and also foreign,” notes Harron. “But something a little bit exotic and strange. An outsider.”
The Moth Diaries is based on the 2002 novel by Rachel Klein, who also penned the screenplay.
Harron says she was surprised by Cole’s take on the raven-haired villain, admitting she initially had a hard time envisioning the striking beauty — known for vibrant red locks — in the role.
“She looks like a beautiful Victorian China doll and wasn’t anything like how Ernessa’s described in the book or how I imagined her. But her audition was so fascinating and intriguing,” says the Canadian director, best known for adapting another novel, Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, for the big screen.
“She was sort of sweet and creepy and scary and it was such a subtle and interesting take on the character.”
That the film’s vampire themes come on the heels of that other teenage book-to-screen fantasy — Twilight — is purely coincidental, adds Harron, who notes she began working on the script well before the undead craze took hold.
“I didn’t even know about Twilight until a little bit later. By that point I was working on the first draft of the script,” says Harron, whose other films include The Notorious Bettie Page and I Shot Andy Warhol.
“And I remember seeing a copy of Twilight in an airport bookstore and I thought, ‘I wonder if I should read that?’ And I thought, ‘No.’ It’s so different. I don’t want to read it if it’s, you know, a vampire story, if it’s in any way similar. Which it’s not, actually.”
The tension in The Moth Diaries largely rests with the dysfunctional dynamic between Rebecca, Lucy and the enigmatic Ernessa.
Their obsessive devotion is typical of a girl’s life before boys enter the picture, says Harron, who drew from her own adolescent relationships and that of her two daughters.
There are casual scenes in which the teens lounge in their underwear or share secrets in the bath but overt sexuality is sparse, notes Harron.
“People would have wanted more lesbian sex as well, I’m sure everyone who has to sell the movie (would have been) happy. But that also is not realistic,” she says.
“I love the fact we could show this intimacy or tenderness without pushing, without objectifying them or making it like, ‘Oh, look, they’re going to have hot lesbian sex’ when they wouldn’t in this case.”