When you boil it down to its basics, this really is all Bram Stoker’s fault. If only he hadn’t laced his groundbreaking genre novel Dracula with so much forbidden Victorian passion, predicating his blood draining horror on how hot women got whenever his fanged neckbiter was around. Since then, everyone from Anne Rice to Whitley Strieber, Stephenie Meyer to Richelle Mead have made Vlad into an “impaler” of a totally different kind. Masked in Harlequin romance tenets and adopted by those without enough sense to see through its supernatural slash sentiments, the vampire lover has become bankable, both in books and on film.
Hoping to catch a ride on that particular cash cow, The Weinstein Company is giving us an adaptation of Ms. Mead’s young adult “phenomenon,” Vampire Academy. With a mythology so mangled that even J.R.R. Tolkein’s Silmarillion laughs at its ludicrousness, a stink bomb like this requires the devotion of a true fan to not only figure out what’s going on, but why we should give a bat’s ass in the first place. In essence, we are dealing with three different kinds of humanoid creature here. On one side of the pseudo-sinister is the Moroi, a peace loving vampire sect that lives happily alongside humans. They are mortal. Then there are the horrific Strigoi, undead entities Hell-bent on destroying their far friendlier cousins. Into the middle of this mayhem come the half-breed Dhampir. Their duty is to protect the bad blood from spilling, so to speak.
Naturally, we have to deal with more heartache than horror. Our lead’s name is Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deustch) and when the film opens, she is being dragged back to Vampire Academy two years after escaping with her best friend Lissa (Lucy Fry). The latter is one of the Moroi, Rose is a Dhampir psychically linked to her BFF and duty-bound to protect her. Within the school setting, they learn of the Strigoi threat, as well as the uneasy peace between humans and monsters. Naturally, Lissa ends up having a skill that endangers the entire enterprise, and Rose has to fight to save her. She also has to fall in love with her hunky bodyguard instructor Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) because… well, just because.
Crafted with a possible franchise in mind and as dull as the Abercrombie & Fitch waif wannabes buttressing the better “actors” in the cast (Gabriel Byrne, Joely Richardson), Vampire Academy goes beyond niche. This isn’t a film made for the fledgling fan, someone who may be vi-curious over the whole undead lover thing. Instead, this is made the for the student of Ms. Mead’s literary ATM, someone who can accurately gauge the chemistry between Rose and Dimitri, and Lissa and her boy toy — and narrative red herring — Christian (Dominic Sherwood), and marvel at how much of the material was actually left in by screenwriter Daniel Waters (of Heathers fame) and his brother, director Mark Waters (Mean Girls).
For anyone else, Vampire Academy is exasperating, spook show soap opera stupidity filtered through Twilight‘s tepid reinterpretation of horror. Nothing here is particularly scary (except, perhaps, the performances) or sexy, and the whole set-up seems lifted from a dozen derivative Underworld rejects (apparently, monsters just can’t get along). The dialogue, overdosing on pop culture quips a la a family film like Madagascar, becomes tedious — that is, when it’s not layering on piles of exposition. Vampire Academy makes the mistake of throwing us into the middle of something, only to have the cast spend too much forward motion making sure we grasp all the Moroi/Strigoi/Dhampir inter-dynamics at work.
For someone whose entire young life revolves around Rose, Lissa, and the entire VA clan, this movie will be more than enough to validate your endless obsession. For everyone else, especially those who’ve sat through previous pathetic reimaginings of the entire Dracula legend, Vampire Academy merely sucks.