“Vampire Academy,” based on the novel of the same name by Richelle Mead (adapted by Dan Waters, writer of “Heathers”), follows a young woman, the wild and dangerous Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch). She’s a Dhampir, half human/half vampire who is sworn to guard the Moroi, peaceful vampire race living within our world. She protects her best friend, princess Elissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), the last in the Dragomir line. She protects her from the race of evil vampires that kill humans to survive – the Strigoi. They’re merciless and they’re the stuff of our nightmares, the ones that die by a stake to the heart. Their eyes are very red, so they look as if they had a crappy night’s sleep or they’re simply high as a kite. Rose also protects her bestie from the dangers of high school, where Lissa is being tormented by arbitrary threats to leave the school, or else.
Even though these high schoolers are vampires, they’re very alike to everyday human high schoolers, and one might even suggest they’re boring since they’re so normal. Like every other high school, vicious rumours arise – like the rumour that when Lissa and Rose were on the run for a year, Elissa had to drink Rose’s blood to survive for so long. Director Mark Waters is familiar with such dynamics of high school life by directing 2004’s “Mean Girls,” a film with great humour and clever dialogue. This time, the humour’s okay when it’s actually funny, and just because a vampire film is aware of things like “Twilight” (Rose mentions that vampires don’t sparkle in the sunlight) and iPhone 5’s to indicate an often meta and pop-culturally relevant sense of humour, doesn’t mean it’s always clever.
It’s so relevant, it has a whole lot of high school romance drama going on. Mead writes in the fact that Rose (supposed to be 17 years old, but in dialogue I could swear Dimitri says she is 20) has a crush on her older guardian trainer Dimitri Belikov (Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky), but her guy best friend Mason (Cameron Monaghan) is crushing on her. That relationship is meaningless this time around, but it depicts all the romances of high school. I imagine the relationship grows to something stronger as the Vampire Academy series goes on, but I’m not sure if a sequel will happen given its poor box office performance, us movie fans who won’t read the books aren’t going to see the relationship grow. It doesn’t matter to me that the series won’t continue on-screen, because while this isn’t a bad high school/vampire flick, it’s not a very good one, either.
Mostly because the plot is rough around the edges. There’s only an arbitrary villain behind the curtains threatening the safety of the characters, making this a capable mystery. The rest is just a traditional high school flick, really. Lissa’s relationships with the opposite sex is partly a love triangle. She likes this dark and mysterious vampire named Christian Ozera who’s a little more Damon Salvatore on “The Vampire Diaries” than Edward Cullen. The thing they share in common is that both of their parents died. Ozera’s parents turned themselves into Strigoi (to do so, a Moroi has to entirely drain a human of their blood) and were then killed by guardians. Lissa’s parents (and brother) were killed in the opening scene in a car crash (they were hit head-on by a drunk driver) where only herself and Rose survived. The scene might have been a bit more powerful if the opening song (M.I.A’s “Bad Girls”) wasn’t such a distraction to me tonally, because when a vampire flick opens up with a pop song like that I think “Oh god, what have I signed up for?” But this is often more a high school movie in more than a few ways.
Anyway, Lissa wants to date Aaron for “so high school” reasons, to become popular and be accepted again. The popularity she confuses for power makes her mean at points, making her and Rose be at each other’s throats at times. (Get it?) That’s another thing that reminded me of a popular vampire show, this time “True Blood,” when Rose wants to get her attractions for Dimtri out of her system – she hooks up with a generic Moroi, who I think is named Jesse (Ashley Charles, a Robert Pattinson looking guy) where he says “A bite during sex is awesome.” If I wanted a film to remind of so many other vampire shows and films, I would have just watched those. This is still okay for what it is, because it’s mildly amusing and there’s some fun to be had.
The best friend relationship between Rose and Lissa is depicted well because they have a good chemistry. Lucy Fry (Lissa) is impressive in one scene, graceful and okay for the rest of the film. Deutch is a good fit for Rose, she’s a bit more sexy, witty and kick-ass than the actual film itself, and I can see the charismatic potential in her. As for the bond between Rose and Elissa, there are several scenes where Rose’s eye color changes from brown to a pretty orange hazel, signalling that she can see through Elissa’s mind to see what she is seeing. She can watch her dreams like a TV show. It’s cool in ways, because it will really help Rose as a guardian, but it could be considered a too convenient plot device. The rest of the cast is just okay for me, Sarah Hyland (as the nerdy Natalie, not hot Haley on TV’s “Modern Family”) and Olga Kurylenko (as the school’s Headmistress) have supporting roles, and the only veteran actor in sight is Gabriel Byrne (from “The Usual Suspects). Byrne looks like he has aged ten years because of a disease his character has, so that’s worth mentioning to get the make-up artists some praise.
As a comedy, the film works to some effect – it isn’t consistently funny, but there are a few times I laughed out loud and there is a one-liner I won’t forget any time soon. Some shots at comedy where the target audience might laugh, might make critics and audience members dragged to it by dates groan. Me, I was mostly smiling and sometimes laughing out loud, and I’m not the target demographic, so that’s an okay sign. As an action movie, it’s often predictable but the Dhampir training sequences are good, and there are two decent action sequences. The cinematography is shaky during some action scenes, which is something I don’t like about action movies because it makes it hard for me to concentrate on whatever is happening on-screen.
The high school aspects are depicted well by Mark Waters, just not to the same effect as “Mean Girls.” You can’t really expect it to be, even though the personalities are the same, these girls and guys just have fangs. Except the Dhampir guardians who seem much more human than vampires, I think they’re just human with incredible strength and training. As for a high school movie, something that might have been clever would have been that, instead of a water fountain, Lissa should drink from a blood fountain in one scene. It would be worth the smile if that were the case; but St. Vladimir Academy does have volunteers for the students who let them feed from their arms, which is where they get their blood to drink.
The Dhampirs train throughout the day because sunlight doesn’t phase them, and the Moroi learn at night. The peaceful vampire race have fangs, but they also have elemental magic (they choose to manipulate either air, earth, fire or water). The races created by Mead are intriguing, because she’s made the Moroi vampires and wizards/airbenders; making me wonder if they should be attending St. Vlad’s, or if they should just go to Hogwarts. We are shown the students learning magic more often than they are at learning techniques of drinking blood, or whatever vampires are taught in school these days.