There's a terrific sense of menace in this gothic dramatic thriller, which plays on the story's fantasy elements to take us into a teen girl's troubled imagination. It's beautifully shot too, with blood-soaked echoes of Carrie and The Shining in the way the unsettling nastiness is underscored with emotion. Even so, the whole moth motif never really makes much sense, other than as a clumsy metaphor for adolescence.
The events take place in a creepy, isolated girls' school, where 16-year-old Rebecca (Bolger) creates a happy subculture with her best pal Lucy (Gadon) and their party-loving friends. They merrily subvert the rules, keeping the headmistress (Parfitt) on her toes. And the hot new literature teacher Mr Davies (Speedman) gets their pulses racing. Then a new student arrives: Ernessa (Cole) is a loner who reaches out to Lucy for friendship, which upsets Rebecca because she feels like Ernessa is actually preying on her friend. So she sets out to investigate Ernessa's mysterious past, and finds it difficult to tell the difference between reality and her wild imagination.
On the surface, this is a supernatural horror film with ghostly freak-outs, monster-movie grisliness and a rising body count. But is all of this happening in Rebecca's mind? Filmmaker Harron cleverly keeps us off-balance in this sense, letting us see Rebecca's harrowing nightmares and layering her suspicions with the lesbian vampire novel the girls are studying in Mr Davies' class. Stir in hints of teen girl issues like eating disorders, petty jealousies and inappropriate male advances.
What makes this come together so cleverly is the way the actresses ground their characters in reality. So even as things escalate into something deeply unsettling, we can identify with Rebecca's mixture of paranoia and concern. And Harron tackles every situation fearlessly, never cutting away from intense emotion, unsettling violence or even suggestive sexuality. Sometimes the film feels a bit too deliberately scary. But what makes it notable is that there's actually a thoughtful exploration of grief amid the bloodcurdling grisliness.
Run time: 82 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 17th May 2012
Box Office USA: $3.8k
Distributed by: IFC Films
Production compaines: Irish Film Board
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 33
IMDB: 4.9 / 10
Director: Mary Harron
Producer: Karine Martin, David Collins
Screenwriter: Mary Harron
Starring: Scott Speedman as Mr. Davies, Sarah Bolger as Rebecca, Lily Cole as Ernessa, Anne Day-Jones as Rebecca's mother, Sarah Gadon as Lucie, Judy Parfitt as Miss Rood, Valerie Tian as Charlie, Melissa Farman as Dora, Deena Aziz as Dr. Olivio, Zina Anaplioti as Cute Girl
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