A vampire princess and her half-human protector return to school after a year on the run, only to discover a new threat in the princess’s own powers.
Mark Waters, 2014
Aaaand here we go…Vampires are real! Only they’re mortal, and can wander about in the sunlight if they want to, it just…gives them headaches? So really, the only vampire-y thing about them is that they drink human blood. Or at least these are the rules of the Moroi, a peaceful race of vampires of whom Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) is the princess. Oh, and they can also do magic. Lissa’s assigned protector, the half-human, half-vampire Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), shares an uncommonly close bond with the princess. Rose is impulsive, reckless, and rebellious. After a car accident that killed Lissa’s brother and parents, Lissa and Rose went on the run, leaving their school and moving from city to city to hide from their enemies, the unnaturally strong, immortal, and immoral vampires, the Strigoi. Eventually Rose and Lissa are found by Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky), a talented Dhampir who brings the girls back to the vampire academy. Once there, Lissa and Rose are bullied, and Lissa discovers latent hidden abilities that challenge the academy’s beliefs and the friendship between the two girls.
Apart from the last sentence, almost everything I summarised above happens in the first five minutes of this film. There is so much going on in Vampire Academy for me to get into, but let me start it here: it isn’t all bad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s mostly bad, but there are glimmers of hope here. The film’s greatest strength is its focus on the friendship between Lissa and Rose. It’s nice to see a YA film whose main storyline revolves around a friendship between two girls; Fry and Deutch have an easy chemistry, and the strain on the relationship is felt when Lissa starts going all Mean Girls on her friend. Deutch works her butt off trying to make this film work. You can’t help but feel as though she’s trying to keep it all together through force of will alone, because there is nothing else that is connecting the various disparate threads of this film. Mood whiplash hits this film every five minutes: it’s 25% teen comedy, 25% vampire drama, 25% action training montage, and 25% romantic angst. Add to that an almost impossible-to-follow “mystery” storyline, a host of confusing lingo regarding various vampire society rules, and constant flashbacks to much more interesting stories that happened before we even meet these characters, and you end up with a hot, unholy mess of a movie.
Vampire Academy defies any attempt to describe it. I had a similar feeling watching this movie to how I felt watching The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones a few years ago. It’s a mishmash of a lot of better things that struggles to be its own thing. Why do we need a reinvention of vampires as elemental wizards and witches who sometimes drink blood? What is this really exploring about that idea? Moving past the concept of the film, it’s not even well made. Director Mark Waters – yes, the Mark Waters who actually directed Mean Girls – actively works against the material to try to create a teen comedy that falls completely flat. This is partly due to confusing direction that jumps around in setting and time like a startled rabbit. It’s also partly due to a host of genuinely terrible and/or disinterested actors rounding out most of the cast. Dominic Sherwood – now of the Shadowhunters TV show, funnily enough – handles himself fine as the hot outcast love interest, and the genuinely talented Cameron Monaghan tries to make his Ducky role work, but fails. (If you think my comparison is on the nose, this should tell you something about the film’s dialogue – at one point, Rose calls him Ducky to his face.) The rest of the cast is garbage. Gabriel Byrne doesn’t want to be there, Joely Richardson is barely there at all, and Danila Kozlovsky could be replaced by a training dummy with almost no effect on the plot. I’m coming to the end of this review, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of how utterly baffling this film is. Nobody in marketing knew what it was either: the film totally, completely flopped at the box office, and with good reason.
Vampire Academy on IMDb