Directed and written by: Matt Jesperson, Maclain Nelson
Featuring: Julie Gonzalo, Adam Johnson, Gary Cole, Maclain Nelson, Matt Mattson, Alexis Knapp
As SXSW 2013 was coming to a close, I received an email inviting me to a last-minute sneak peek at the new horror comedy film Vamp U. The only name I recognized on the cast list was Gary Cole, but I decided to give it a shot.
Vamp U follows a handsome, likeable history professor named Wayne Gretzky (Adam Johnson) who, in addition to looking good in scarves, is a centuries-old vampire. His enthusiastic student Tom (Matt Mattson) serves as the exposition fairy to tell us in the prologue that 300 years ago, Wayne fell in love with a beautiful human girl named Mary (Julie Gonzalo) but accidentally killed her in a passionate embrace. After that night, he realized that his fangs would no longer grow, forcing him to feed on livestock and live a "domesticated" life in society rather than embrace his "creature of the night" status. Fast-forward to present day, where Gretsky is the enigmatic and charming Dr. G, a hip member of the college staff whom all the students adore. School psychiatrist and advisor Arthur Levine (Gary Cole) is in on Dr. G's little secret, and everything seems to be going smoothly as a new school year starts.
Enter Chris Keller (also portrayed by Gonzalo), a beautiful freshman sorority girl who wants to join Dr. G's much-lauded history class. When Wayne sees her, he completely loses his composure as he realizes she's a doppelganger for his long-lost Mary; he instantly sprouts fangs and has to bolt from the classroom before anyone notices.
Thus begins a whirlwind affair between Wayne and Chris, who finds herself strangely drawn to the charismatic older man. Their love quickly skids off the rails when Wayne sinks his teeth in and Chris succumbs to a taste for the red stuff. Wayne has underestimated how hungry a newborn vampire is, and Chris's bloodlust turns to her sorority sisters. Before long, the entire campus is in chaos, leaving the remaining humans to try and stop the spread of the vampires before all is lost.
Vamp U is a first directing effort from this particular duo, and the writing is clever and sharp in some places but sloppy and over-the-top in others. One can't exactly determine how campy the film is trying to be and how much of the humor is just being delivered too broadly to be effective. The acting, however, is pretty solid universally. Gary Cole's comedic timing is as good as it's ever been, and the others bring some impressive consistency to their roles. The cinematography's fine, the cast is believable as college kids (except for actor Matt Mattson, who looks about a decade too old to pass for a college sophomore in most scenes), and the script isn't outwardly offensively bad or anything. It just falls flat in places where it seems a twist of a wrench could've tightened it into much funnier material, and the story heads into predictable territory long before it has to. Some of the antics remind us of Barnabas Collins in the recent remake of Dark Shadows and, let's be honest, does anyone want to be reminded of that?
Still, Vamp U isn't a bad film, and I think these filmmakers will deliver something a bit juicier as they hone their craft. But any movie that's making Twilight jokes in 2013 is coming out a little too late, and it feels as dated as the wardrobe in Wayne's flashback scenes by the time the final credits roll.