Cast: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne
The Premise: Two Teenage girls have their hands full with crushes, bullying, and picking a major. All the while fighting Vampires; how will they survive High School?
When first we meet Rose and Lissa they are being driven back to the rurals of America where the school for Mortal Vampires and their Guardians learn their maths and sciences, as well as self defence and Vampire killing. The school is for mortal Vampires called Moroi and outside the school walls are the nasty immortal Vampires known as Strigoi. Having played hooky for a year they have much schooling to catch up on, and the usual clique they belonged to is now run by another, more sinister classmate, Mia.
After a series of pranks that reach a crescendo with a dead fox hanging above Lissa’s door, and warnings written on her wall with blood, Rose and Lissa are all but sure that Mia is behind them. Meanwhile, their old teacher Ms. Karp has gone missing with no one saying mum about the reasons of her disappearance. Word is that the Strigoi are becoming more bold in their attacks, and with the school dance coming up, Rose and Lissa work to solve the pranking mystery, and the secrets the school is keeping.
Vampire Academy is kind of like a pretty good first date: It starts with a lot of clumsy talking but by the end you’ve gotten to second base. When looking back at the film you find yourself unable to recall the moment that it switched from total dreck to delight but you are glad you stuck it out. It’s is based on the first book of a young adult series and young adult is firmly where the film lands. It does not claim to want to bring in any other age bracket, yet once you get passed that line between bad exposition to fun action film you will be pleasantly surprised you are happy you came.
The script truly feels split in two. The beginning of the film is dreadfully clunky with so much exposition and back story meant to bring you up to speed that you feel more like you are in a recap episode of a TV series. And that is what the film felt like: A pilot for a series. And this reviewer wonders if that is what it is more suited for. But we have seen this show before, Rose played by Zoey Deutch (Beautiful Creatures) rattles off machine-gun dialogue that wants so badly to be written by Joss Whedon. She’s Rory Gilmore meets the wry sense of humour of Buffy but without the strength of character that Whedon brings. Which isn’t to say you don’t warm to her. At that aforementioned script shift she truly does become the ultimate heroin, finally snapping out those one liners like any action star of Eighties’ buddy cop films.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV series, has been off the air for eleven years now (Wow! 11) so most of the viewers of this film won’t have seen the series that started it all. This will be their generations’ Buffy and years from now, when they finally watch Buffy (if they do), they will wonder what all the fuss was about because they won’t have recognized that this movie would not exist had Buffy come first. Although, this is a sad fact, it is not a reason to hate on Vampire Academy. It truly does what it wanted to do: Entertain. Although that rough first half will test the patience of many a jaded viewer over the age of 20 it is the second half that wins you over. The fun is contagious and you will catch yourself laughing out loud at a well executed and dare I say it, enjoyable film.
Of course, in a post Harry Potter world one cannot read any novel or watch any film that introduces a school for magical beings without a critical eye. The bar was set, and set high, with Rowling’s story and this film does little to hide that it cribbed all its notes from that series. The school, in it’s almost castle like expanse with open areas akin to Hogwarts and family shields and classes in magical studies, we roam the all too familiar grounds of St. Vladimir’s Academy. One wonders, though if Director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) made a very conscious decision to simply put the comparison right in your face instead of hiding it; just get it out of the way so they can get to the rest of the story. Perhaps I am giving him too much credit. Perhaps.
As always, when basing a movie off a book, you have the potential of losing some of the fiddly bits; the side characters, the in-between plot points that get in the way of the true objective our our hapless heroes. If a film is written correctly, though, if you are unaware that these other story lines exist you may not miss them. Unfortunately, when the story takes a pause to have a supposed minor character Mason, played by Cameron Monaghan (Shameless) explain the most of the mystery to Rose and Lissa you cant help but feel cheated out of a good detective story. You know that that story point was all a red herring but being that it takes up 70% of the film to not give the viewer the satisfaction of solving it with him is a fail. Granted, you will have guessed it correctly at the first prank.
When you first see Gabriel Byrne (Point of No Return) you wonder if he is slumming it, and the more keen observing will start to piece his place in the story quite quickly, but his performance adds a sense of weight to the film that a PG-13 film cribbing from Buffy and Harry needs. That perhaps there is more going on here than the sloppy writing the first half would suggest. He might have phoned in most of his scenes but, a bad day for Byrne is still a great day for most other actors. Perhaps the actor who steals almost every scene she is in is Sarah Hyland (Modern Family). Her embodiment of the hapless bespectacled rube with spectacular affectation of a mouth breather she sheds Haley Dunphy and reveals a wonderful actor who has a long career ahead of her.
For a story that is aimed directly at 14-year-old girls it does its job. That’s all. But, when those 14-year-old girls grow older and get some well written-films under their beltm they won’t be coming back to this film for literature but, for the fun they had. Like a favorite film from your youth that you throw on because it reminds you of a simpler time, not because you just gotta see that cheesy car chase or hear that classic line you and your friends pull out considerably more than you realize. Such classics as “Like a Porcupine in a Hot tub.” will travel the rank and file of every high school across the Americas, as well as the fifty other zingers that this reviewer enjoyed, even when I saw them coming.
And, because this is a film for teenagers, one cannot fault it too hard for failing at times; much like the Twilight films hyperbolically show the angst-ridden life of dating in high school all too well, this film revels in that genre and tries ever so much to rise above the mire of all the rest of the films in this genus. No, you won’t take your thirty-something friends to this film but if you end up having to watch it with your younger siblings you will find yourself (at first against your will) enjoying it as well.