When the dream sequence killing off the cast is better than everything afterward, you MIGHT have a script problem.
Exposition: Moroi are peaceful mortal vampires – never mind that they drink the blood of the living – who are protected by half-vampire guardians called Dhampirs from the red-eyed bad vampires called Strigoi. Got all that? Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is the assumed Dhampir protector of Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), the last of her Moroi bloodline and heir to the so-called vampire throne – we’ll get to “the queen” later. Anyway, Rose and Lissa have been living on the lam in Portland, Oregon until they get dragged back to Montana’s own St. Vladimir’s Academy – which looks a lot like left over sets from Hogwarts – where Moroi learn to use magic and Dhampirs learn to protect Moroi with their lives. Ninety minutes of mostly blood-red herrings culminates in exactly who you think stepping forward as the big bad before the movie mercifully ends.
This is why we can’t have good vampire movies.
Assuming that the Vampire Academy books must be better than what crawled up and died on the screen, imagine the kids from Clueless updating their pop culture references to play vampires in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. There is simply too much going on here for a ninety-minute movie, and that’s before The Queen of All Vampires (Joely Richardson) inexplicably shows up to diss the Princess Lissa – in what world would a bunch of high school socialites NOT want to be besties with the future Queen? Vampire Academy, that’s where. Being a film for teens also means that every adult teacher is vain, clueless and/or evil; there’s nary a Headmaster Dumbledore or even a worthy Professor Snape in sight, so our heroes have no one to turn to – but the WORST problem is really just trying to be popular in school before the big dance! Shouldn’t – I don’t know – your LIVES be a little more important? Isn’t this why you ran away to begin with? If this is really the story in the first book, my sympathies.
The ranks of Overactors Anonymous could recruit much of the cast. Zoey Deutch’s protrayal of Rose feels like she’s channeling Ellen Page’s performance of Juno – poorly. Lucy Fry’s Lissa is split between moments of decent acting followed by five lines that sound like nails on the chalkboard. In defense of both actors, the written lines are pretty bad, too. The always-professional Gabriel Byrne phones it in, and if you’ve seen 95% of the movies he’s been in, you already know exactly what part his character plays. To be fair, both Cameron Monaghan and Dominic Sherwood manage to shine in their supporting roles, which only highlights how below par everyone else’s performance is. Suggestion to the screenwriters: you may not want to put down Twilight and sparkling vampires when your script already sounds like bad fan fiction itself.
The Weinstein Company should know better than this, right? There were no midnight shows or any pre-screenings held that I am aware of, just lots and lots of insipid clips on teen social websites confirming a lack of confidence in the final product – and it doesn’t look like many of those targeted were fooled into attending opening weekend. With three individual movies rolled into one featuring the same characters that just couldn’t get it together, the biggest misstep of all is showing us what could have been. In a dream sequence, our hero Rose sees her charge Lissa in danger, arriving in time to see everyone die and her best friend turned into one of the bad vampires – a total fail on all levels and game over for Rose… just before Lissa wakes up. Nothing that follows lives up to the tension, effects or action in that ONE scene. Here’s a friendly tip, folks: a reminder of how awesome your film could have been does nothing but show how bad all the rest of it actually is.
(a generous half skull recommedation out of four)