Another week, another teen supernatural romance movie. But it’s quite possible that Vampire Academy represents the nadir of the genre, and I’m aware that we’re talking about a field that’s already seen the likes of Twilight, The Host and The Mortal Instruments drag themselves across theater screens and leave a trail of moviegoing agony behind. Coming after all of those, Vampire Academy just seems to rehash every cliché of those films imaginable, mixed with a little Heathers, a little Buffy, some Mean Girls and a whole lot of artless filmmaking.
Based on Richelle Mead’s “worldwide best selling series” (of course), Vampire Academy takes place at St. Vladimir’s, a hidden boarding school attended by Moroi (nice vampires who can come out in the day – sort of – and are generally fun to be around) and Dhampir (half-vampire/half-human guardians who are trained to protect the members of the 12 Moroi families). It is here that we meet spunky 17-year-old Rose (Zoey Deutch), guardian to Lissa (Lucy Fry), the last in line of the royal Dragomir family. On the run for two years, they are caught and returned to the Academy despite Rose’s strong feeling that Lissa is in danger there from the Strigoi, evil vampires who long to eradicate the Moroi lines and take over society. Or something.
When a film has to start by explaining who everyone is, that’s generally a sign of trouble. Not only does Vampire Academy use voiceover to let us know the differences between its three main groups of characters, but it uses those characters to deliver reams of exposition about the story’s little world. There are so many rules and explanations to sort through in the movie that I just sort of gave up after a few minutes: I didn’t care who could use which elemental power or how a Moroi could turn into a Strigoi because it was just too boring to contemplate.
Anyway, there is indeed a plot to kill Lissa, and Rose must complete her training and become a full-fledged Guardian before this happens. Of course, she’s distracted by her interest in her teacher, Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky), a living block of stone who probably wouldn’t change his expression even if Rose threw herself naked into his arms – and as a matter of fact, that happens later and sure enough, his face doesn’t change. Lissa has her own romance to deal with as well, in the form of Christian, played by one of those Robert Pattinson clones they mass produce at a factory somewhere in Burbank.
If you’re semi-paying attention, you’ll figure out who the villains are not too long into the movie, and then it’s a long, slow slog to the finish line, because Vampire Academy offers nothing in the way of suspense, interesting characters or even a compelling argument for its existence. There’s also nothing to look at: director Mark Waters, who has apparently lost his edge since helming Mean Girls, shoots everything in a bland, flat style that befits his been-there storyline.
And then there’s that dialogue. When not outlining the many by-laws of the Vampire Academy “mythology,” screenwriter Daniel Waters (Mark’s older brother and also a long way from his own Heathers and Batman Returns days) has decided to fill our characters’ mouths (mostly Rose’s) with a stream of already congealing pop culture references. There’s even an aside about sparkly vampires which seems old before Rose even finishes saying it.
Speaking of Rose, Ms. Deutch is probably the best thing about Vampire Academy: bearing an uncanny resemblance to Ellen Page, she does have a presence and energy that is missing from the rest of the cast and the movie itself. Her younger colleagues are forgettable, while vets like Gabriel Byrne and Joely Richardson are wasting time and know it; Byrne in particular is just there to collect a check. But I almost can’t blame him for not trying. By the time the CG wolves came into play, it wasn’t vampires I was thinking about but Frankenstein’s monster: a distorted, soulless creation made out of parts of many other bodies.
Can we please, please call a moratorium, if not on young adult supernatural tales, then at least teen vampires? The whole concept makes no sense and has thoroughly destroyed the true terror and awe of one of horror’s greatest archetypes. It’s time for bloodsuckers to return to their gray-skinned, stinking-breath, red-eyed roots. With any luck, that process will be speeded up by audiences doing the right thing and putting a stake in Vampire Academy at the box office.