“You’re making this about high school, and it’s about something more.”
While Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) seems to think that her BFF Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) is too concerned with the internal politics of yes, the vampire academy the pair attend, Mark Waters’s Vampire Academy is simply not concerned enough with mining the very fertile ground of high school BS to bolster his adaptation of Richelle Mead’s popular YA series. Set in a world where vampires exist (in three varieties, no less, though none of them sparkle!), Vampire Academy attempts to blend teen drama with bloody vampire battles to diminishing, if surprisingly funny, results.
The film opens with a car accident set to, of all things, M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls,” a quick affair that soon snaps forward two years, where survivors Rose and Lissa have been on the run from the past (sad) and their alma mater St. Vladimir’s (yes, that would be the eponymous Vampire Academy). Not just best friends, the pair have “the bond” – a psychic connection that allows Rose to experience things through Lissa’s eyes, from dreams to reality, while Lissa is granted no special allowance into Rose’s own life (Rose tends to vocalize her displeasure if she “sees” something Lissa is doing that she doesn’t approve of, though Lissa can’t hear her at all).
That bond may be convenient enough to best pals, but it’s essential to this particular duo’s survival, especially since Rose’s life is dedicated to protecting the royal Lissa. See, the world of Vampire Academy is divided into three different races of bloodsucker – Dhampirs like Rose who are half-human and half-vampire (and don’t need blood to survive) who are tasked with protecting those of royal “Moroi” lineage like Lissa (who need blood but who are also both peaceful and mortal) particularly from the evil Strigoi (typical vamps who are violent, immortal, and ruthless) – and those tenuous bonds and battles are the basis of plenty of dramas, large and small, in the film.
Soon captured by the school’s guardians, Rose and Lissa are forced back into the suitably charged world of St. Vlad’s, all while attempting to figure out just what kind of threats are continually coming at them (similarly, the audience of Vampire Academy will spend plenty of time also trying to figure out just what the hell is going on). There are romantic complications and jealous girls and note-passing and gossip and all manner of high school drama and trauma, all with the added caveat of, hey, these are vampires (oh, and also these fight sequences are terribly boring).
The film does have a compelling pedigree when it comes to zippy teen girl-centric comedy. Directed by Mark Waters, the film retains some of the whipsmart zing of his Mean Girls and it may even approach similar cult classic territory, but it’s not nearly as tight and amusing as its predecessor (Waters, it must be noted, also directed Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and Vampire Academy is indeed far superior to both, though that’s not saying much). Adapted by Daniel Waters, who most notably wrote Heathers (a direct ancestor of the other Waters’s Mean Girls), the film does show flashes of biting brilliance that echo the 1988 classic, but it’s simply not as clever or jawdropping.
Yet, Deutch’s feisty and funny performance nearly saves the entire outing. As Rose, she’s charming and strong and frisky and spunky and extremely entertaining to watch, exhibiting a comedic timing that is refreshing in any setting, and especially so in a film like Vampire Academy that all but begs for some self-reflexive humor. Fry isn’t quite as good as her compatriot, but she does an admirable job making a thinly written character (and one that often changes her motivations, actions, and very personality at seeming random) appear engaging.
Mead’s take on vampires may be creative, but the film itself doesn’t do much to convey a fully fleshed out universe, and it’s hard to imagine what sort of life the various vampires have beyond the school’s walls and what sort of society they’ve created past just one random school in the middle of Montana. Large chunks of conversation are bloated with exposition that’s both unnecessary and just dead boring. Fortunately, the film has no problem poking fun at its specified genre – the film is rife with jokes about Twilight, particularly a long bit about its “Human Feeder Program,” one populated by rabid vampire fans who are literally willing to offer up their blood – but there are plenty of jokes that fall flat, however, from a strange obsession with iPhones and even one thudder of a crack about Hot Topic.
Vampire Academy ultimately doesn’t have much bite, but that doesn’t stop it from trying to continually show its teeth.
The Upside: Zoey Deutch is fierce and funny, attempts to take a bite out of high school politics, rife with genuinely amusing bits (most of which gleefully make fun of its genre and subject matter).
The Downside: Exposition-heavy dialogue somehow fails to alleviated considerable confusion, terrible CGI, uninspired fighting sequences, predictable plotting, frequently just plain bizarre.
On the Side: Mead’s first “Vampire Academy” book was published in 2007, and the film has been in development since 2010.