The theater I was sitting in was half-full of teenage girls, and every one of them had at least one thing to say to the screen. Sometimes, it was the endearing hormonal squee resulting from them seeing Danila Kozlovsky do his gymnastics routine. But more often than not, the girls’ sentiment was an incredulous, “What?!?”
I don’t blame them. I expected a lot from VAMPIRE ACADEMY, but I did not expect to be so utterly confused for its 105 minute running time. Right away, Mark Waters’ film bombards us with information, from the physiology of three major vampire sects, to royal bloodlines, to mythology and prophecies. It’s all a lot to take in and the film never stops to let us get our bearings and wrap our heads around it all.
Rose (Zoey Deutch) is a Dhampir. Okay, I know that one. That’s a half-human/half-vampire. She’s strong and fast, but she can also walk around in daylight without requiring blood to survive. In this mythology, the Dhampir are the guardians of the Moroi – royal, effete vampires who thrive on blood and can weave elemental magic. They don’t kill people, choosing instead to use feeders, human vampire groupies who volunteer to be a casual food source. They are also somehow all British, despite having Romanian last names.
Lissa (Lucy Fry) is the last of her royal bloodline and the best friend of Rose. Actually, more than that since Lissa and Rose share a psychic bond. When one of them dreams, they both dream. Rose also periodically goes into a trance that allows her to see and feel whatever Lissa is going through at that moment. They have had this bond ever since a car accident claimed the lives of Lissa’s parents and brother (Moroi can apparently die in this manner.). This means that although Rose is a novice and not a full-fledged guardian, she gets a pass since the two have such a special relationship.
When the film begins, it’s already halfway over. At least, that’s how it feels. Rose and Lissa have run away from St. Vladimir’s, the “vampire academy” of the title. They have been hiding out and avoiding hunters for reasons we learn about later but are never one hundred percent sure of. A guardian by the name of Dimitri (Kozlovsky) shows up to take them back, even thwarting a Strogoi attack once they get there.
Oh yes, the Strogoi are what we think of when we think of vampires. Pale creatures with strength and agility on their side who actually do kill and feed off anyone in their path. They also have a distinct taste for the Moroi, partially for the thrill and partially because they want to take over the world I guess.
But when Rose and Lissa get back to the school, they have more to fear from within the walls of St. Vladimir’s. Someone is taunting Lissa, leaving bloody messages and dead animals to draw her out. Her mother the queen is on her case because she hasn’t picked a major – sorry, because she has not declared which magic she wishes to pursue. The current girlfriend of her ex has it out for her and several of the more chauvinistic guys are trying to get to Rose as well. Then, there’s another mystery that needs to be solved, the hidden history of the original St. Vladimir, the brief personality change in Lissa that could lead her into darkness, the vacuum left by the lack of suitable heirs to the Moroi throne, the question about whatever happened to a teacher the girls used to look up to, and yes, even a few more things I’m not listing.
Clearly, you can see the problem with VAMPIRE ACADEMY. This film, which is marketed simplistically with posters reading “They Suck At School (I guess “They’ll Blow You By the Lockers” was too on the nose. Stay classy, Weinstein Company.)” is far too complicated for its own good. It took me most of this review to explain what was going on and I didn’t even finish. The script has enough stuff going on to fit into the first season of a television series, which is probably where Richelle Mead’s characters would be more at home.
And it’s really too bad, because there is quite a bit to like about VAMPIRE ACADEMY. Deutch is perfectly charming as Rose, a heroine the audience should really be able to get behind. Some of the dialogue is smart and funny. Sarah Hyland has a small part, and she’s always entertaining. I can see myself watching the film again, just to relive some of those great moments that come and go far too quickly to really satisfy. But you can’t really grasp onto anything VAMPIRE ACADEMY throws at you, and it throws a lot.
The Weinstein Company is positioning VAMPIRE ACADEMY as a franchise. Well, you can forget it. It’s not happening. They botched it with poor marketing and information overload. And like I said, this audience was a vocal one. I’m sure there were a few fans of Mead’s books that could perhaps follow the action more closely. But most of the audience seemed upset and confused, many of them wondering aloud what was going on.
As I left the theater, trying to block the bad cover of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” out of my head, I could hear one person turn to the group she was with, saying simply “That was painful.” I don’t know about that. VAMPIRE ACADEMY has teeth. It just that with so many options, it doesn’t know what to sink them into. ★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13 for bloody violence, language and some sexual content that pushes the rating
– Running time: 1hr 44mins.