‘Vampire Academy’ Review
Based on the bestselling YA book series, ‘Vampire Academy’ seemed a promising movie adaptation. Combining the cutthroat world of high school with the bloodlust of vampire fiction, it had an enticing starting point. Adding to its allure were a writer and director who have defined the modern teen queen movie, Daniel Waters, the screenwriter of ‘Heathers,’ and Mark Waters, the director of ‘Mean Girls.’ So how did the ‘Vampire Academy’ turn out so lifeless?
I’ll admit up front, I’ve never read the books. The movie would likely make more sense to those who have. ‘Vampire Academy’ author Richelle Mead has set up an intriguing world, but apparently not one that’s easy to explain, as the movie fumbles this over and over. The story focuses on the special friendship of Lissa (Lucy Fry) and Rose (Zoey Deutch). In broad strokes, the former is a member of vampire royalty, the latter a guardian destined to protest her against a looming threat that’s stalking Lissa’s every turn at vampire academy. Unfortunately, it’s the particulars that trip up Waters and Waters, making for a movie that feels like someone shouting, “Oh, wait — I forgot to tell you this part!” for two hours straight.
The characters speak almost solely in naked exposition, saying things like, “We left school one year ago, and that car accident happened two years ago.” In this way they bleed out backstories, introduce minor characters and red herrings, and otherwise slow action to a crawl. When our heroines aren’t explaining their lives at length through dialogue, voice-over, or actual title cards, they are cracking wise with snarky one-liners. Sadly, these bring little fun to the film, as the rushed pacing gives no joke time to land before rushing ahead to the next plot point. All so we can barrel through a convoluted third act that includes the requisite big school dance.
Its story feels forced and rambling. But it could have been helped along if Deutch were up to shouldering it with sheer star power. For her part Fry is lovely and enviable as vampire princess/queen bee, wielding her magic to win popularity or win vengeance against bullies who’ve wronged her. But she’s ultimately shunted to the side in favor of telling the heroine’s tale of Rose, a mouthy rebel who’ll do anything to save her best friend, whether it means risking life and limb, or confronting her about turning into a mean girl. Regrettably, Deutch doesn’t have the charisma or easy affability needed to pull off Rose’s many one-liners. Before long her sarcastic shtick is just plain irritating. Then, she fails to sell the physicality of Rose’s character. Though we’re repeatedly told this guardian has serious fighting skills, Deutch’s slim limbs fling about lightly, lacking the convincing power that would make the blows she delivers believably brutal.
‘Vampire Academy’s’ string of action sequences are all pretty weak. They offer a level of screen combat that’s on par with the hokiest days of the ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ TV series. Poor shot coverage makes the action more incoherent than exciting. Sadly, the love scenes are hardly more exhilarating. Sure, there’s some skin and bit of sizzle, but once again, everything feels rushed in a jumble of slapdash storytelling.
Ultimately, ‘Vampire Academy’ is a mess of a movie, offering uninspiring performances, lame action, lackluster love stories and a plot line that runs out of steam well before its last twists. In the film’s final moments, Deutch cries out in jest, “Are you not entertained?” It’s meant to be a clever reference to ‘Gladiator’ and Rose’s killer fighting skills. Yet it only made me focus on the question plainly, and realize: No, I’m really not.