There have been a vast array of films in the last few years that have bid to be the new Twilight or Harry Potter. While Vampire Academy may not have ever been likely to have hit those heights, there were hopes it could carve out its own niche. Instead it pretty much sank without trace, partly because it’s so busy trying to be other popular franchises – or perhaps parodying them – that it never becomes anything on its own.
The film’s mythology follows three races of being – the Moroi, who are a mortal, largely benevolent magical race but who have to live on blood; the Strigoi, who are the evil, immortal vampires of myths; and the half-bloodsucker Dhampir, a warrior race who protect the Moroi.
Lissa (Lucy Fry) is a royal Moroi who should be at a supernatural school in Montana. However her Dhampir, Rose (Zoey Deutch), has taken her away and been hiding her – even though Rose isn’t 100% sure why she needed to get Lissa out. When they are forced to return to the school, they’re immediately thrust into a world of teen hormones, petty jealousies and revolving boyfriends.
If that weren’t enough, it appears someone is after Lissa, but it’s difficult to tell whether the threat is a minor one from another teen jealous of her return, or if something more dangerous is afoot. As Lissa attempts to settle back into teen life, Rose tries to uncover what’s going on. Are the Strigoi involved or is the problem closer to home?
Vampire Academy is a bit of a mess. It’s all over the place, trying to cover so much territory and please so many people that it ends up satisfying nobody. The evidence there’s a problem starts early on, as its attempts to quickly cover the film’s mythology are muddy, leaving you wondering exactly what’s going on and why. Eventually that clears out of the way, but Vampire Academy then swings wildly between comedy, action, teen flick, romance and fantasy, with conscious references to everything from Harry Potter to 1980s John Hughes movies.
In order to get the plot from one place to another, there are a few too many convenient story points and characters who go from one extreme to the other because that’s what the movie demands, rather than because it logically makes sense. There’s also a nicely backwards – if equally ineffective – tendency towards casting more for face than talent. In most films that means very pretty young women, but here it’s more often the guys who wander around looking gorgeous but are incredibly stilted once they open their mouths.
Unfortunately it can’t bring these things together into a cohesive whole and constantly feels like it could have been a lot better than it is. It’s also difficult to escape the sense that there’s a lot in here that’s setting things up for potential sequels, but they never justifying their existence here and end up bloating things. That’s particularly noticeable with Mason, played by Shameless’ Cameron Monaghan, who’s presumably and important part of later stories in the series of novels the film is based on, but here he feels pointless and as if he’s simply there to get in the way.
Perhaps the movie’s problems and the way it can’t tell what it is, is best shown in the casting of Modern Family’s gorgeous Sarah Hyland as Natalie. In Vampire Academy they give her curly hair and glasses and suddenly she’s supposed to be an outcast plain Jane. It’s so daft it feels like a parody of the classic teen flick ugly-pretty girl (as so expertly lampooned in Not Another Teen Movie), but it’s never clear if the film is aware of that and having a knowing wink, or if it hopes we simply won’t notice.
It’s indicative of the movie’s endless confusion about what it’s doing and why. I couldn’t help but feel that writer-director Mark Waters really wanted to make something more self-aware and slightly tongue in cheek, but that’s been stamped out leaving a movie that’s unsure of its own identity.
Overall Verdict: I can’t say I hated Vampire Academy, but it was more effective at making me wonder if the books it’s based on might be worth a try than working as a movie in its own right.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac