Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 7, 2014)
When author Richelle Mead launched her Vampire Academy series, did she think “Harry Potter meets Twilight - cha-ching”? I have no idea, but I find it hard not to view the Academy concept as a combo of the two.
In an attempt to be open-minded, though, I wanted to give the 2014 movie of Academy a look to see if it could overcome its potentially derivative origins. The film introduces us to 17-year-old Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) and her BFF Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch). Lissa belongs to a clan called the Moroi: mortal vampires who peacefully co-exist with humans and who only feast on the blood of volunteers. Rose acts as her guardian-in-training – called a Dhampir - - and also donates blood when Lissa needs it. The Moroi battle the Strigoi, who are evil, immortals vampires who fit our traditional view of the undead.
A year earlier, the girls fled St. Vladimir’s Academy, a place where Moroi and Dhampir learn to harness their gifts. However the authorities find them and force them to go back to the school. We follow their return to training as well as battles with the Strigoi who threaten them – and other more traditional teenage activities.
With Vampire Academy, we find a film in search of consistency. As I mentioned at the start, it comes with a premise that sounds like a hybrid of other successful properties, and it never quite shakes off that feel. While it never seems like a direct rip-off of Twilight or Potter - and even manages a few jabs at the former – it still doesn’t come up with a theme or an atmosphere all its own.
This wishy-washiness becomes the movie’s biggest drawback, as Academy attempts to serve too many masters. It can’t decide if it’s a teen romp, a parody, a detective store or a supernatural thriller, and the inconsistency renders all those elements less effective. While I don’t think all movies need to pick a genre and never deviate, too much variety can cause problems – at least if the results seem as loose and random as this. Perhaps someone else could’ve pulled off the stylistic dalliances, but director Mark Waters just seems unsure of himself.
With Waters on-board, Academy probably should’ve done more to embrace the warped teen movie sensibility. After all, he directed 2004’s Mean Girls, one of the more successful high school comedies of recent years, and throughout Academy, I get the feeling he wants to push the movie into that direction.
Alas, he doesn’t. Every once in a while, Waters flirts with the “Mean Girls with Vampires” conceit, but he steers away from that notion and fails to develop it well. Instead, we get a melange of genre choices that fail to coalesce in a satisfying way; the shifts in tone/style simply seem random and barely connected.
None of the actors add much to the proceedings, and Deutch becomes a particular weakness, as her “Ellen Page on Steroids” performance turns into a distraction. I get the feeling her sole direction was “watch Juno 100 times”, as Deutch’s take on Rose genuinely feels like a Page impersonation. This seems out of place as well, for Deutch’s Rose comes across like someone from a different film - though given all the erratic stylistic choices, I find it hard to state what film that would be.
Much of the story devotes itself to a mystery, and a pretty uninvolving mystery at that. Again, whereas the movie might entertain if it focused more on teen life and related quirks, instead it opts to become “vampire Nancy Drew”. Since the mystery never takes flight, this turns into another misstep.
All of this adds up to a slow, forgettable 104 minutes. Every once in a while, Vampire Academy threatens to develop into something interesting, but it quickly loses steam and reverts to the plodding, dull effort we find too much of the time.