2014 - 104 minutes
Directed by: Mark Waters
Written by: Daniel Waters
Starring: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Olga Kurylenko, Gabriel Byrne, Dominic Sherwood, Sarah Hyland
It’s pretty bold for Vampire Academy to take pointed shots at the Twilight series, especially considering how open it leaves itself for similar mockery. It positions itself as the fun, fashionable young adult take on vampire lore, but it’s such a mess there’s absolutely no pleasure to be had. Adapted from the first of a six-book series by author Richelle Mead, this story of teens, bloodsuckers, and scholastic preparation for their hidden world no doubt wishes to capitalize on the success of Twilight, The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter (which Vampire Academy borrows from liberally). My guess is we won’t even get to movie number two in this saga.
It is confounding how much exposition is crammed into this film, and how clumsy all of it is. Basically, we have a collection of beings from vampiric tradition – their names splashed across the screen as one of the characters provides a snappy voiceover. There are Moroi, diplomatic vampires who have their own organized society and live in peace amongst unsuspecting humans. They can go out during the day and can be killed just like a human. On the other end of the spectrum are Strigoi, violent bloodsuckers who prey on human and Moroi alike. They only come out at night and can only be killed by a silver stake. Smack in the middle are Dhampir, half human/vampire beings who act as guardians and peacekeepers for the Moroi world. All of these beings collide in an isolated high school where teens study history and sharpen their skills, which for the Moroi includes magic while the Dhampir learn martial arts and the most effective ways to jam stakes into Strigoi.
Got all that? It really doesn’t matter because aside from the Balkan folklore hullabaloo, the plot is wrecked on the most basic of levels. We start in Oregon where Moroi princess Lissa (Lucy Fry) is building a life with her Dhampir protector Rose (Zoey Deutch) after fleeing the school – St. Vladimir’s Academy (really) – two years prior. The pair is located by elder Dhampir Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky), who squires them back to cruel Headmistress Kirova (Olga Kurylenko). As Rose trains with Dimitri to hone her fighting skills, Lissa becomes the target of an unknown antagonist who leaves threatening messages written in blood and animal carcasses as warnings. To what end, I (and I’m pretty sure the characters) don’t know. Sharing a psychic bond that allows them to see and experience what the other is doing, Rose and Lissa navigate the bloody waters of the school, including crushes, bullies, and the shadowy enemy stalking them.
This isn’t even the half of it. Screenwriter Daniel Waters and director Mark Waters seem to know this narrative doesn’t have the legs to sustain a multi-film series, so they throw in everything they possibly can into their one chance. Characters are introduced in rapid-fire succession, their piece in the plot stated through dialogue or shown in flashback. Aggravation reaches peak levels with pop culture references, from John Hughes movies to vampire curiosity over iPhones and Twitter, and a completely bland representation of teen foibles. There’s an icky flirtation between Rose and Dimitri, while Lissa deals with tormentors and a couple different suitors.
Performances are consistently grating in a “too cool for school” way, with only Deutch coming across as slightly genuine and sympathetic. She may have been perfect for a film that was more like Mean Girls (also directed by Mark Waters) or Heathers (also penned by Daniel), but in Vampire Academy she’s just another cog in the grinding machine that never stops spinning.
There’s a prom. And magical spells. And sad family histories that involve deadly accidents. And a mysterious former headmistress who disappeared. And an impolite vampire queen. And a sickly older royal vampire (played by Gabriel Byrne) who sticks up for Lissa and Rose during their struggles. And on, and on, and on.
Amid the slog, the mystery of the bloody messages is resolved with a few seconds of dialogue, only to have the “REAL” big bad guy (or gal) steps forward with the “REAL” nefarious plan. If you’re able to pay any attention whatsoever to early scenes, the final baddie will be obvious in that they’re trying to not be obvious. It’s also obvious to anyone watching that Vampire Academy is a complete cinematic stinker.
© 2014 by Blake Crane