Monday, February 17, 2014

Vampire Academy

Vampire Academy 
Dir. Mark Waters

1.5 out of 5

A bloody mess of romance schlock, horrendous dialogue, and supernatural gobbledygook, the misfiring Vampire Academy at least contains one moment where I could identify with flip heroine Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutsch).  Anticipating an attack on her best friend, the royal vampire Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), at the big school dance, Rose owns up to the unpredictability of the situation: "At this point, I can't remember who hates us or who loves us," she admits, "but let's make tonight our bitch."  It's a most appropriate tagline for an utterly confusing, poorly edited, and exposition-heavy film that, indeed, makes the basic language of cinema its bitch.

The hard-to-follow plot centers on Rose, a human-vampire hybrid called a "Dhampir" whose sole purpose in life is to protect a wealthy, telegenic class of full-blooded vampires known as "Moroi" from their uglier, more venal counterparts, dubbed the "Strigoi."  She studies her craft at St. Vladimir's, a training ground for young vampires and sorta-vampires hidden in the Montana wilderness where a majority of the student body is inexplicably British.  Vampire Academy is basically one massive information dump disguised as a film.  A pure wish fulfillment manifestation for the readers of the young adult book series on which it is based, it gives no quarter to audience members struggling to understand or care about the ludicrously rapid progression of romances, prophecies, and oblique clues that help Rose solve a mystery regarding the threats on Lissa's life.

Vampire Academy is clearly aiming for a Twilight-starved demographic that does not include me, but that's no excuse for shoddy filmmaking.  Siblings Mark and Daniel Waters certainly have the credentials - the former directed Mean Girls, while the latter wrote the immortal Heathers - to oversee a sassy, self-aware high school romp.  But the flimsiness of the material is echoed in its one-dimensional characters.  There's also a huge disconnect between the wisecracking Rose and the rest of her pouty, pompous peers.  Deutsch's nonchalance, though annoying at times, is the one thing keeping the movie from collapsing under the strain of its inane plotting.

To be fair, Vampire Academy wants nothing to do with the regressive gender and sexual politics featured in Twilight, and is far more reasonable regarding teenage relationships, both platonic and romantic.  That's an awfully low bar, though, and the movie isn't shy about establishing its own brand of creepy.  Vampire Academy is an enthusiastic proponent of inappropriate love interests, pairing the 17-year-old Rose with a hunky faculty member named Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) who's several years her senior.  But what's most offensive is the sheer volume of superfluous information foisted upon the viewer.  Though the filmmakers take pains to introduce a complex mythology and over-explain the vampire hierarchy, little of it is relevant to the film's rather mundane and obvious central mystery.  Maybe that last part is a relief.  For a movie that feels more like homework than entertainment, Vampire Academy at least has the courtesy to dumb down the final exam.

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