Thursday, July 3, 2014

Review 278: "Vampire Academy"

Higher learning. Higher stakes.

School's Out (FOR BLOOD!!!!!)

      Vampire Academy is a 2014 film based on a young adult book series written by author Richelle Mead. Released on the same day as The Lego Movie and The Monuments Men, this film failed to find it's audience, ultimately going on to earn just over half its budget, only getting about 7 million domestically. Plus, it's international releases were either delayed or cancelled. The film was directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls) and was written by Daniel Waters (Batman Returns). The film follows Rose (Zoey Deutch), a dhampir charged with protecting her best friend Lissa (Lucy Fry), a royal vampire, as they are forced to return to the titicular academy after spending time on the run. Once back, the two find themselves outcasts and hated by the school's headmaster (Olga Kurylenko). Even worse, a series of nasty threats against Lissa have everyone on edge. However, the girls do receive some help in the form of old teacher (?) Victor (Gabriel Byrne) and his daughter (Sarah Hyland), Rose's trainer Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) and Lissa's mysterious friend Christian (Dominic Sherwood). Claire Foy and Sami Gayle also star as a crazy former teacher and the main rival of Lissa respectively.

"Look, I found this ancient, outdated book.
Also known as the script!"
As If

      Part of me really wanted to like Vampire Academy as I was watching it. I mean, I couldn't because the film's not very good, but I at least admired what it was trying to do differently. With the two main flavors of young adult adaptations coming in either boring romance (Twilight) or overly-serious dystopian future (Hunger Games), so it's nice to have one trying something new. And for Vampire Academy, that's a stylish, somewhat campy horror-comedy. It never exactly hits the mark, but at least being okay in this genre is more interesting than in either of the others. And it certainly makes the film better than it should be. The film is directed pretty well and it never goes over-the-top, making it an easy watch. Plus, the characters are minor hits as well. They aren't anything new, but they are done well and I did mildly care about them. 
      The acting is solid too, though not always. Deutch is honestly pretty bad, but she has a charm to her badness. Kozlovsky is just plain bad however and when it becomes clear he's a main character, that's not as much fun. A lot of what I liked about Vampire Academy is that it's one of the rare young adult adaptation where the characters actually seem like teenagers. Unlike in other teen films, the characters in this film are allowed to talk about naughty things like sex and... sex. And yes, I know that other teen movies do that, but it's refreshing to see teen girls get the chance to say all the crude stuff normally reserved for boys. 

A MTV Original

      Overall, that's kinda what Vampire Academy is. It's refreshing and trying something new and different and I didn't like the film, even if it's was just the slightest bit. See, the film still as a major problem in that it's story is a complete and utter mess on almost all levels. It's the kind of film that starts without a visibly endpoint. The characters aren't starting at point A with a clearly defined point B to get to. Much of the first half of the film is just the characters lives at the academy, which is fine. Plenty of movies are like that. The problem is that when the story finally starts to come around, the film still doesn't have a clearly defined point B. The characters are threatened and Lissa is going mad with power... but the characters never actually solve those problems on their own. The solutions just kinda present themselves to them. There no closer to catching the bad guy at the end than at the beginning when they make themselves known. Even worse, the characters often don't even seem that interested in the mystery they're wrapped up in to the point I wonder if I've mistaken it as the actual plot and not something else.
      The whole film is choppy and it feels like a lot was cut from the book that would have helped things become clearer. You know things are bad when the film leaves tons of unanswered questions and yet the film features scenes that are just wall-to-wall exposition. It's the stuff where we get info dumps about the lore and yet key phrases repeated over and over are left unexplained, like about the vampire have to declare in magic. Oh, yeah, the vampire's also have magic powers... they never use all that much, even when if life-threatening situations. Huh?
      The film ends up feeling like a reverse The Last Airbender. It feels like a two hour movie made out of a 13 episode plus TV show, except that show never existed. In fact, this probably would have made a pretty decent show on MTV. A little more time to flesh out the story and characters and this could have actually been fun. As it stands now, the film is a mess of seemingly disconnected story ideas, with characters often changing the minds and development in less than a few seconds. Plus, some characters don't even have a clear purpose for being her. Hyland's character is just an annoying comic relief character in a movie meant to be funny, making her seemingly pointless. SPOILER: At least until she's revealed to have been kept along for a cheap last minute twist. Ugh. The story is what ultimately keeps the film down.

They saw the Facebook post on how
they still want to make a sequel.
The Verdict

      Vampire Academy is a movie that ultimately can't get itself out of the world of lame young adults adaptations. Which is too bad, since the film features a refreshing set of interesting female characters and an attempt to tell a story that could work as a horror-comedy. It's a nice genre change for a young adult story about vampire and it keeps the film at least watchable. However, the film's story is a complete mess, often feeling rushed and without focus, making the story hard to follow and the characters all over the place. Still, a lot better than expected. Vampire Academy gets 3 stars out of 6.

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