I really hate to go for the obvious puns, like “Vampire Academy sucks”, but they’re just begging me for it. Not only is the whole vampire/suck thing right there on the surface — they even use it in the promotional materials — but the movie is so, so bad.
This is yet another attempt to fill the Twilight void, this time with actual vampires instead of demigods, aliens, witches, or some other supernatural replacement. And there’s a lot of world-building to get through. The first fifteen minutes are solid exposition, wrapped around two otherwise-unmotivated and disorganized fight scenes, and this sets half of the tone for what’s to come.
In this series, vampires come in three versions. The Moroi are the magic-using snobs; they do drink blood but sunlight is merely an irritation to them. It would have been nice if we’d actually seen how it’s an irritant, though, rather than just being told. The Strigoi are the monstrous, Nosferatu-like vampires for whom the sun is deadly, along with a silver stake through the heart. And then the Dhampir are the half-bloods who train as protectors for the Moroi.
There’s a lot more to it, which we hear about in excruciating info-dumps, usually by Rose (Zoey Deutch), a dhampir who protects her moroi best friend Lissa (Lucy Fry). Oh, and Lissa is also a princess; there’s a huge chunk about the twelve royal families and how the king or queen is selected and it’s just so incredibly boring. Before the movie takes supercilious swipes like noting that the moroi don’t sparkle — take that, Twilight — it really needs to clean up its own house.
The other half of the tone is an odd mix of tween school melodrama and PG-13 sex. The nerdy girl, Natalie (Sarah Hyland), bursts out with “holy moly” moments after bemoaning that nobody has ever seen her naked — a scene made even more uncomfortable by the fact that whatever Hyland’s real age is she looks all of fourteen. The mean girl, Mia (Sami Gayle), bursts into a dance hysterically trying to spread rumors that Lissa is pregnant, and further that the baby has an STI. Pretty much all the kids are drawn from Disney, Nickelodeon, or ABC Family shows, or their foreign equivalents, and all the girls wear bras that push their breasts up to their necks. Maybe they protect against Strigoi bites?
Against this background, we get a particularly nasty form of bullying with messages in blood — okay, they are vampires — and disemboweled animals. Lissa decides to turn queen-bee to get back on top, while Rose digs deeper and finds sinister machinations possibly involving the headmistress (Olga Kurylenko), an aging and infirm prince (Gabriel Byrne), and the vampire queen (Joely Richardson).
The story sprawls all over the place, advancing in fits and starts between episodes of disturbingly explicit teen drama. Director Mark Waters and writer Daniel Waters (brothers) may have been near good offbeat high school films before — Mean Girls and Heathers, respectively — but evidently none of it rubbed off. Either that, or Richelle Mead’s novels are just so awful that they can’t be saved. Whichever is the case, we can only hope that this series doesn’t sink its teeth into the target demographic the way Twilight did.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.