I’ll not deny I felt a fist pump-inducing thrill when MIA’s lyrics opened Vampire Academy’s film adaptation’s opening moments. It’s exactly the song that metes out the sass and sexiness we’ve come to know and love in the book series.
(I’ve blogged about this series a bunch of times here, so if you haven’t read the books, recommend peeling off to read those reviews and the books themselves before reading this one, because there’s some assumed knowledge in the pars that follow.)
I’ll also not deny I’d been beyond excited about the film’s impending release—relentlessly so, if you were to ask those around me upon whom I inflicted my enthusiasm. The day I got to preview the film, for instance, I bounded out of bed like the character of a Disney film and smiled at strangers on the street.
I simultaneously adopted the Madagascar ‘I like to move it, move it’ song as my motif, and sent it to around as if to say: See! This is how happy I am. It’s Vampire Academy film preview day!
All this precursor is to say I’ll not deny my hopes and expectations for the adaptation were, well, high. For that reason, I took along a friend to the preview who isn’t a Vampire Academy aficionado. Between the two of us, I figured, we’d obtain an objective review.
Sadly, though, I didn’t need my friend’s more measured take to surmise the film isn’t a great interpretation of the books. And that’s even before he leant across some four or five times to ask me what the heck was going on because he found the film hard to follow.
The Hunger Games film adaptations have been stellar. Even the Twilight films are comparatively better than this one. Especially by the end, they were giving us that knowing nod and wink and we were in on the jokes. So what are the issues with Vampire Academy?
For starters, the script isn’t great. The film was brought to us by the guys responsible for Heathers back in the day and, more recently, Mean Girls, so I expected cleverness. Especially as the book itself is full of zingers (Rose is, after all, the kind of character who doesn’t have a filter and does have a lot of sass). But the lines are cheesy, in the cringe-worthy sense rather than the funny one. They attempt the nod and the wink at times, but we audience members are never really in on the joke. Which makes it downright awkward.
There are lines that do work (some of which come from the books). For example:
- ‘Handcuffs?’ Rose asks, incredulously, when she awakes to find she’s handcuffed to the car, which implies she’s good enough to be capable of escape. ‘There’s gotta be a compliment in there.’
- ‘Cue cafeteria scene. Sort of.’ We then cut to the Moroi’s feeding room.
- ‘We can’t beat up everyone we have a problem with,’ Lissa says. ‘We can try,’ Rose replies.
- ‘We live in a world where the monsters are real,’ Victor says.
But when I say ‘work’, I mean ‘make you go “huh, that’s sort of clever”’ rather than actually laugh out loud or want to seek out someone to high five.
Mostly, the lines make you cringe:
- ‘Don’t worry, I don’t bite. Only literally.’
The acting isn’t great. You’d expect this from the younger, less-experienced actors. But I have to say the adults weren’t much better. The strongest performance came from Zoey Deutch, who plays protagonist Rose, but Lucy Fry, who plays her counterpoint Lissa, produced a lispy, lock-jawed accent that was distracting and not entirely believable.
The fight scenes, which I’d really been looking forward to—at least in part because the official social media account had been posting images of the actors doing some hardcore training to get in shape—were inauthentic and stylised to the point of being corny.
Think the ‘kapow’ that used to accompany the Batman and Robin fights—because that word actually popped into my head. The only one that went halfway to achieving that was the final fight scene involving Dimitri and another Guardian (I won’t go into detail). And that was really a case of far too little far too late.
Also, there is a stuffed toy fox that was incomprehensibly terrible. A taxidermied fox smeared with tomato sauce would have been a more realistic rendition. I understand that there can sometimes be budget constraints, but this was something embarrassingly else.
But there were clearly fans in the preview screening, as evidenced by the audible gasps emitted Dimitri first appears on screen (I may have been one of the gaspers). I’d been dubious about the casting of him—he’s such a central character and one who looms large in many a girl’s eyes and heart—but I warmed to him enough to give him if not the thumbs up, then at least the ok (I will say, though, that he was a bit warmer and fuzzier than the Dimitri of the early books, and I’m not sure this is ok this soon in the series).
I wanted to love this film, and there were snippets I could. For instance, it was fantastic to see a series I’d found so rich suddenly realised on film; it was great to remember elements or small details I’d forgotten woven into the film’s dialogue or background.
Worth noting is the books improve as the series goes on (Rose, for instance, becomes less annoying, things heat up with her and Dimitri, and there’s less scene-setting and more story-telling, so the narrative’s gripping and fast-paced). The first book lays the introductory groundwork, so its film version has to do the same. If they follow the books’ improvements, future films would likely be better than this initial one.
Overall, though it pains me to write it, I have to admit this film is, as one of its characters says (or as I thought I heard them say), ‘a few corpses short of an artery’. Fans like me will see this film and any future ones that emerge because we can’t not, but we won’t be watching them because we should.
Review tickets thanks to Studiocanal.