New Review: Vampire Academy (2014)
Director: Mark Waters
Cast: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Sarah Hyland, Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne, Sami Gayle, Dominic Sherwood, Claire Foy, Olga Kurylenko, Joely Richardson, Ashley Charles
It's quite amazing that a movie with as much exposition as Vampire Academy could still come across as convoluted. The movie is based on a novel written by Richelle Mead (unread by me), and it could be that those familiar with the book will have an easier time following the plot than those who haven't. For the first thirty minutes, I was just struggling to figure out what the movie was suppose to be about. Once everything becomes clear, it's really difficult to care.
The story takes place at St. Vladmir's Academy, an isolated, Montana-based boarding school where the Moroi, a race of benevolent vampires, are trained in the ways of magic, while the Dhampirs, half-human/half vampires, are taught how to fight and protect the Moroi. There is a third race of vampires called Strigoi, who are basically a race of mindless, conscience-free killing machines. "None of us sparkle," the main heroine tells us in voice over. They may have more personality than the sparkling Twilight vampires, but that doesn't mean that they're interesting.
The movie opens up with best buddies Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), a Dhampir, and Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), a Moroi princess, hiding out in Oregon. A year ago, they ran away from St. Vladmir's because their teacher Mrs. Karp (Claire Foy) told them they were in danger there. They're eventually found and dragged back to Montana by older Guardian Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky), and once they return, they discover that Mrs. Karp has mysteriously vanished, and no one seems to want to talk about it. What happened to her? We're left wondering that for an hour or so, and once we finally figure it out, we realize the answer has nothing to do with the main storyline.
So, what is the film's story? It turns out that someone is making threats against Lissa, hanging dead animals outside her dorm and writing threatening messages in blood on her bedroom wall. The list of suspects is high, and includes idiot bully Mia (Sami Gayle), Headmistress Kirova (Olga Kurylenko, who's apparently been instructed to play the character as though she had something devilish to hide), and creepy stalker Christian Ozera (Dominic Sherwood). A lot of sinister things happen over the course of the movie (maddeningly enough, the more gruesome events are nothing more than red herrings), and once the Big Reveal comes along, it's so anticlimactic, it's enough to make you scream at the screen, "Are you frickin' kidding me?!"
There's not much the movie tells us about either Rose or Lissa. Both of their parents are dead, Rose seems to have a psychic gift where she can occasionally see through Lissa's eyes, and Lissa seems to have the power to heal and (I think) control other people's thoughts, a power that's called Compulsion. Apart from these minor details, there's very little character development for these two. Audiences will have a difficult time finding anything about these women that they can relate to, and their friendship is especially unconvincing. The Dhampirs are basically slaves to the Moroi, and both girls have so little in common that we never believe that they would be friends for a second. Tonto and John Reid from last year's The Lone Ranger had more chemistry than Rose and Lissa.
The movie is directed by Mark Waters, who made the charming Mean Girls back in 2004, and is penned by his brother Daniel, who wrote the screenplay for the 1988 movie Heathers. Both are very talented and capable of making an entertaining movie. Maybe they just didn't care enough about the material to even bother here. Mark's direction is passionless and dull. He paces the movie so sluggishly that the film's brief 104 minute running time feels twice as long, and when it comes to the action scenes, he relies on chintzy CGI effects and that ever so annoying shaky camera technique.
Daniel, meanwhile, crams in as much as he can into the movie, and the results are disorganized and unoriginal. We get these bizarre scenes involving the "Human Feeder Program," where vampire loving humans willingly offer up their blood to vampires (I kind of wish they went into more detail about that). We get lots of boring high school drama, including jealous girlfriends (which leads to a scene where Lissa sees her old flame, and his new girlfriend screams at Lissa, "Back off b***h, he's mine!"), gossip (courtesy of Sarah Hyland's annoying Natalie), and even a high school dance where several characters get their comeuppance. If that weren't enough, Daniel throws out one of the most tiresome and frustrating clichés known to man: the old standby, It Was Only a Dream.
It's actually the dream sequence that's the movie's most intense moment. A lot of fans of the books have complained that the trailers advertise the movie as a comedy, while the books were much darker in tone. I hate to disappoint the fans, but Vampire Academy is pretty much a comedy, and not a very effective one at that. There are a lot of pop culture references, including a bit involving Hot Topic, but there's very little of it that's actually funny. The Strigoi are pretty creepy looking, but we hardly ever see them.
Vampire Academy does have a saving grace, and her name is Zoey Deutch. Beautiful, sassy, and winningly charismatic, Deutch is so likable here, that she's made to say a line like "Trust me, you do not want to get a nose job in Montana," and somehow makes it sound funny. There's also a running gag involving her trying to pull a sneak attack on her trainer/potential love interest Dimitri, which leads to one laugh out loud moment where she finally succeeds (unfortunately, it comes during the final minutes of the movie). Deutch is so good, in fact, that she even manages to upstage acting veterans like Gabriel Byrne and Joely Richardson, although they are given very little to do.
The other actors are okay, given the thin material they've been given to work with, but none of them are as charming or as memorable as Deutch. In fact, the movie itself is pretty forgettable. It's not sexy, it's not scary, it's not exciting, and it's only rarely funny. If you really want to see a vampire movie done right, you'd be better off renting last year's fantastic Byzantium. That'll show you how to do it right.
Rated PG-13 for violence, blood, some sexual content, and profanity
Final Grade: * ½ (out of ****)
What were your thoughts on this film? :)
Other Thoughts on Vampire Academy (2014) :D
- 'Vampire Academy' review - redeyechicago.com
Bottle all the wit and attitude of 'Mean Girls.' Throw that bottle into the ocean. Now try to make a sassy teen comedy about young women with more bark than bite.
- 'Vampire Academy' Movie Review | Movie Reviews | Rolling Stone
Since this movie wasn't screened for critics ndash; usually a surefire sign of disaster ndash; I bought my ticket today with everyone else actually, t
- ‘Vampire Academy’ has surprisingly good bite: movie review - NY Daily News
Take a "Twilight" plot, stick it in a "Harry Potter" setting and add a thick glaze of self-aware sarcasm and you've just enrolled in "Vampire Academy."
My Other Reviews! :)
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Wow, this took me a lot longer to write than I thought it would. Oh well, here are my picks for the best movies (that I saw) of 2013.
- Daybreakers: Finally, Another Good Vampire Movie
Director(s): The Spierg Brothers Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Isabel Lucas, Michael Dorman Synopsis: In the year 2019, a plague has transformed nearly every human on the planet into a blood-sucking vampires. What...
- Movie Review: Byzantium (2013)