Vampire Academy review


Makes TWILIGHT look good – something I never thought I would say about any movie ever – now please excuse me while I go wash my mouth out with soap.

VAMPIRE ACADEMY is guaranteed to have cineastes and cult movie fans browsing IMDB to double-check that screenwriter Daniel Waters did indeed write HEATHERS back in 1988. Not that HEATHERS was so much better (it’s over-rated), but rather, VAMPIRE ACADEMY gives every indication of having been scripted by someone who never wrote a movie before. It’s a little bit hard to imagine a movie with more activity but so little actually happening, with more exposition but so little actual sense, or with more narration but so little actually worth narrating. It fills the screen for 104 minutes, and that’s just about all it does.
Not to put all the baggage on Daniel, brother Mark Waters directs so badly that even the occasionally semi-funny line falls deader than an anemic vampire bat taken out by a surface-to-air garlic bomb. The forcefully glib tone he elicits suggests he was aiming for something closer to WARM BODIES than TWILIGHT, but the result makes the TWILIGHT saga look good – and I never thought I would say that, but at least those films strove to please their intended audience, whereas in VAMPIRE ACADEMY the Waters Brothers seem to have been thinking they could joke and clown their way through material they clearly do not believe in. (It goes without saying that WARM BODIES is funnier, scarier, and more endearing.)
The story focuses Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) and Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry). Rose is a Dhampir, a human-vampire hybride who acts as a bodyguard for Lissa, a royal member of the Moroi (peace-loving, mortal vampires). You might be wondering why a full-blooded vampire – with magical powers, no less! – would need to be guarded by someone who is essentially human and has little going for her except an attitude and the standard allotment of generic action-movie kickboxing moves. You might be wondering, but VAMPIRE ACADEMY will not tell you.
What the film will tell you is that Rose and Lissa are really close – like, psychically close – but that’s more plot convenience than character development. Rose occasionally acts as willing bloody donor to Lissa, which allows Waters to get off on the usual girl-on-girl fantasy b.s. that male filmmakers like to throw up on screen, but for some unclear reason this activity is frowned upon by the other Moroi (who also get their blood from willing victims).
By the way, the film starts with Rose and Lissa on the run from the titular Vampire Academy, but we don’t know why, and it turns out they don’t know why either, but it’s later explained as a memory block, but why the secrecy would be necessary is never explained – except insofar as, if it didn’t exist, the characters (and by extension, we in the audience) would pretty much know the whole story right from the start.

High school sucks. (Get it?)
High school sucks. (Get it?)

Instead, the screenplay lets the plot drip like rusty water from a leaky faucet while “distracting” us with “satirical” jabs at high school life, as seen through the blood-red lens of vampire society. (High school sucks! Get it?) Yup, Daniel Waters really is back in HEATHERS territory (one plot development even involves two young dickheads embarrassing the leading lady by claiming to have double-teamed her), but putting fangs in the students mouths doesn’t make the old jokes sound new again.
Nor does it justify the scatter-shot approach of the script. There’s some stuff about Lissa standing up for herself instead of relying on Rose to fight her battles, but that’s bad for some reason or other. Also, Lissa wants to be popular, but that’s bad because …. HEATHERS!!!! Rose falls for a hunky Dhampir named Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) – because after all this is the paranormal romance genre. And don’t forget (no matter how much the film almost does) Rose and Lissa had run away from the academy to avoid some shrouded danger lurking with its halls.
These random narrative “developments” characterize VAMPIRE ACADEMY pretty much from beginning to end. Someone is somewhere doing something for some reason; somebody says something about why they’re doing it; then they do something else for some other reason that has little or nothing to do with what they were doing before, but somebody else says something new about what they’re doing now. It doesn’t take long before you feel as if the film is simply jumping around from scene to scene – and sometimes jumping around within scenes – in a frantic attempt to suggest that there really is a movie going on up there. Alas, no…
Is that a stake in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
Is that a stake in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

VAMPIRE ACADEMY trots out the obligatory genre elements, but none of them work well enough to please even the most undiscriminating fans. The romance is as cold as the grave. The performances are embalmed. And the action has all the dexterity of a corpse with rigor mortis. In a sadly botched opportunity, Rose occasionally attacks fellow Dhampir Dimitri, to keep him on his toes – rather like Kato used to attack Inspector Clouseau in the PINK PANTHER sequels; unfortunately, Waters seems to think that simply rerunning the concept is funny in and of itself, without bothering to stage any of the hysterically extravagant slo-mo kung fu that made the gag funny in the PANTHER movies.
Deutch is pretty but not funny – essentially from the Kristen Stewart school of acting, though thankfully without the blank, gap-mouthed stare. Fry at least has the British accent to suggest something like a performance. Gabriel Byrne collects a paycheck and makes you wonder why he’s not in something better.
When VAMPIRE ACADEMY finally wanders around to the climax, a glimmer of competence emerges, thanks to a half-way decent final confrontation with a Strigoi (an undead vampire), but any flicker of audience good will is immediately extinguished by the most vile of insults: the “surprise” coda shouting that the filmmakers intend a sequel whether you want one or not. It is perhaps telling that this scene takes place immediately after the main action, before viewers could walk out during the credits. In a rare moment of clarity, the filmmakers realized that nobody would be eagerly waiting around to see whether a tag for a sequel would pop up just before the final fade out.
0 out of 5 stars – Absolutely bloodless!
VAMPIRE ACADEMY (February 8, 2014, The Weinstein Company). Directed by Mark Waters. Screenplay by Daniel Waters, based on the novel by Richelle Mead. Cast: Zoey Deutch as Rose Hathaway. Lucy Fry as Lissa Dragomir. Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri Belikov. Gabriel Byrne as Victor Dashkov; with Dominc Sherwood, Olga Kurylenko, Joely Richardson. 104 minutes. PG-13

Red Riding Hood: Horror Film Review

Red-Riding-Hood-PosterRED RIDING HOOD, based on the classic fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, is a werewolf movie in the style of a paranormal romance. Instead of building an atmosphere of horror, such stories are about women involved with supernatural beings (vampires, werewolves, demons) and the ensuing romantic difficulties. These women are often either the ultimate in “bad girls” or are dating ultimate bad boys with supernatural powers that need to be marshaled and contained. As a subgenre of romance, paranormal romances have been building in popularity for the past decade and have become a staple at many bookstores.
One of the most popular paranormal romances is Stephanie Mayer’s series of TWILIGHT books, and RED RIDING HOOD’s director is none other than Catherine Hardwicke, the woman who directed the first TWILIGHT film.  RED RIDING HOOD benefits from her ability to create beautiful visuals on a limited budget. Both the cinematography by Mandy Walker and the production design by Thomas Sanders are strong.
In the script by David Johnson(ORPHAN), Valerie is the young girl who receives a red cloak from her grandmother (Julie Christie). In the opening scene (set in a European mountain village that is never actually specified — it could be Austria or the Carpathians), Valerie traps a young rabbit with her friend Peter and is encouraged to slit the rabbit’s throat, with the spilling of blood indicating her transition into adulthood and her growing bond with Peter.
Some years later, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to marry the handsome woodcutter Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her mother (Virginia Madsen), knowing how little woodcutters make (being married to one) is determined that she marry the brooding blacksmith Henry (Max Irons) instead. Rather than Team Edward and Team Jacob, these two men vie for Valerie’s love and attention. Henry realizes that Valerie prefers Peter, but Henry is game to show her that he is worthy.
Complicating matters, the village has been terrorized by a werewolf for many years, so every full moon, one of the village’s animals is tied to a stake and left for a sacrifice. However, this particular full moon, the werewolf bypasses the planned sacrifice and kills Valerie’s sister instead. Consequently, the village priest, Father Auguste (Lucas Haas) summons famed werewolf-hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) to put an end to the horrors.
The villagers decide to tackle the problem themselves and send a posse after the werewolf. In the process, Henry’s father is killed and the Reeve (Michael Hogan, Saul of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) beheads the wolf he thinks is responsible. Father Solomon arrives in the village with two daughters, a warrior band of Moors, and a large iron elephant which is later employed as a torture device. Solomon has dedicated his life to eradicating werewolves, since one decimated his family. To aid him in his quest, he wields a silver sword and has replaced with natural fingernails with silver ones.
Goldman does an impressive job limning a larger-than-life fanatic, chomping on the scenery without quite going over the top, though at times it is a near miss, especially when he hisses while torturing someone about how “he sings with the love of Satan,” which borders on camp. Seyfried, from BIG LOVE and VERONICA MARS, imbues her character with some strong qualities as well. She’s no damsel in distress; her Valerie is smart, strong, and independent-minded, blue-eyed and stout-hearted.
The weakest element proves to be the werewolf itself, an underwhelming piece of CGI with black fur and brown eyes. The werewolf confronts Valerie and actually talks to her in a voice only she can understand. She realizes that the werewolf is one of the villagers, someone she knows, and so she dedicates herself to trying to solve which villager the werewolf could be. Is it Peter? Hans? Could it be Father Auguste luring Father Solomon for an ultimate showdown? Could it be one of her village girl friends? Could it be a member of her own family, such as her grandmother or her father (Billy Burke). However, once word spreads that she has communicated with the wolf, Valerie herself is suspected of witchcraft.

Amanda Seyfried
Amanda Seyfried

Though the images are beautiful, much of the dialogue is sappy, and far too modern for the time period, giving the film a Renaissance Faire 90210 feel. Though it tries hard to be anything but scary, the film doesn’t really satisfy, though in some ways it comes closer than Universal’s recent retread of THE WOLF MAN.  RED RIDING HOOD doesn’t have the delirious sexual undertones or inventiveness of Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, and the beautiful Seyfried, looking great in Renaissance-era lingerie, is stranded between being a symbol of purity and one of sexuality. Though it is reminiscent of the TWILIGHT franchise, RED RIDING HOOD cannot quite recreate the successful formula.
RED RIDING HOOD (March 11, 2011). Director: Catherine Hardwicke. Writer: David Johnson.

  • Amanda Seyfried…Valerie
  • Gary Oldman…Solomon
  • Billy Burke…Cesaire
  • Shiloh Fernandez…Peter
  • Max Irons…Henry
  • Virginia Madsen…Suzette
  • Lukas Haas…Father Auguste
  • Julie Christie…Grandmother