Film review: VAMPIRE ACADEMY, from Built For Speed

Young adult literature has recently become the scourge of film critics with horrendous adaptations of Stephanie Myers’ Twilight series and The Host as well as the lamentable big screen versions of Cassandra Clare’s first Mortal Instruments fable.  Despite fleeting moments of genuine entertainment and deliberate amusement, Vampire Academy maintains the dismal standard.

Vampire Academy revolves around Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) and Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) both of whom are students at the mysterious St Vladimir’s academy for remarkably good looking vampires.  Rose is a Dhampir or half human/ half vampire warrior who is sworn to protect Lissa, a member of the  suspiciously blonde elite race known as the Moroi, from the ugly bad-ass vampires known as the Strigoi.  Amid the battles with the Strigoi and some ludicrous romantic interludes involving Rose and her Glen Danzig look-a-like trainer and Eastern European stereotype Dimitry (Danila Kozlovsky), Rose must protect Lissa from a deadly plot forming within the supposedly protective walls of St Vladimir’s itself. There’s a lot going on and to bring the uninitiated up to speed with this world and its resident mythology, the film crams in so much exposition that it feels manic and at times, incoherent.

One of the main problems with Vampire Academy is that the story recycles so many ideas from established fantasy films that it instantly feels like a rip-off: characters have Jedi-like mind control powers, there’s Twilight-style forbidden romantic pairings of characters from different supernatural species and the whole thing is set in a Harry Potter-style private school for kids with otherworldly powers.

The film also has most of the usual  dubious young adult-lit ingredients: clunky action sequences, floppy-haired pretty boys (although remarkably they keep their shirts on) and a cute,  feisty, resourceful but troubled heroine whose problems and fears are presumably meant to mirror those of the film’s target teen girl demographic. 

While this film has many of the pitfalls of previous young adult literary adaptations, at least some of the time it actually tries to be funny.  As Rose, Zoey Deutch is a wise-cracking cross between Ellen Page and Kat Dennings from Two Broke Girls who fires off some vaguely amusing and cynical observations about her classmates and the repressive academy.  Unfortunately, the deliberate gags aren’t as funny as the clunky dialogue, stilted acting (particularly from Lucy Fry) and the cringe-worthy romantic scenes.  With its depiction of nasty teen rivalry and female bullying, the film actually ends up like a more violent episode of Gossip Girl

The film isn’t short on action and features numerous fight sequences between the Dhampir and the Strigoi.  Sadly, as in so many recent films, not just teen lit adaptations, the action scenes are appallingly filmed with the camera flailing all over the place making it impossible to know what’s going on. 

Given the youth of the film’s intended audience, parents might be a bit concerned about certain sequences in Vampire Academy.  Rose is required to not only protect Lissa from the Strigoi but also to act as Lissa’s feeding station or “blood whore” such that Lissa can sink her fangs into Rose anytime she feels peckish.  Pardon my cynicism but this seems to send the outrageous message that it’s ok for one race to subjugate another.   Also, parents should also be warned that the feeding scenes are so erotic that young viewers may have to dodge the raincoat brigade at screenings.

Vampire Academy almost falls into the so bad its good category but Deutch’s winking ballsy performance just gives the film a shred of credibility.  Given the audiences negative reaction at the screening, though, it’s questionable whether the sequel, heavily sign-posted at the end of the film will eventuate.

Nick’s rating: **

Genre: Fantasy/ action.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Mark Waters.

Release date: 6th Mar 2014.

Running time: 104 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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