REVIEW: Vampire Academy [2014]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 104 minutes | Release Date: February 7th, 2014 (USA)
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director(s): Mark Waters
Writer(s): Daniel Waters / Richelle Mead (novel)

“The clarity of the darkness beckons”

The target demographic for Vampire Academy? Teenage girls. The only demographic that could truly, completely enjoy it? Teenage girls. With that said, however, it knows this and isn’t afraid to embrace it. Honestly, for better or worse, that’s exactly what it should strive towards because it’s why Hollywood green-lit the big-screen treatment in the first place. The fans of Richelle Mead‘s series of books upon which it’s based want the sassy divas, mystical princesses, and darkly brooding man meat to pine over. That’s why they read it and that’s why they’ll buy a ticket. To remove such motifs for mass appeal wouldn’t make it palatable to a broader audience yet it would alienate its core. But as long as it’s fun, unpretentious, and dare I say smart, even a thirty-year old guy like me can leave entertained.

That’s not to say the severity of smoldering masculinity engaged in a love triangle for the human girl isn’t going to do big business—Twilight proved overwrought drama will bring in the middle-aged women too if the hotties are scrumptious enough. But how often can the realm of supernaturals stay fresh when it’s always steeped in woe-is-me lore that makes anyone outside of swooning teens want to slit their wrists? Probably longer than I’d hope humanity would let it, yet this one decides to diverge anyway. I haven’t read the series so I’m not sure how true to them the film’s tone is, but Daniel Waters (screenwriter) and Mark Waters (director) found that sweet spot of putting the undead into relatable high school tropes for the type of social class insanity such things bring on their own.

As a result, the bloodsucking simply provides the hook rather than the endgame like another school-set saga did with magic. If you’re to compare Vampire Academy to anything it should be Harry Potter. Yes, there’s romance, but not the overdrawn will-they-or-won’t-they nonsense that does nothing but pad runtime. One key pairing is foreshadowed and made; another is desired but rightfully not created due to more important things happening around them. We don’t need endless pining before an inevitable grand gesture of vomit-inducing superfluity. Let the story lead where it must and stop trying to swell the score when the real draw is whether or not our heroines survive. It’s high school, after all. It only takes one rumor to expose love as lust before moving onto the next hormonal belt notch.

No, here the mythology—albeit convoluted—gives us more to appreciate than the “love” angle. When we meet the royal Moroi princess Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) and her Dhampir best friend/guardian-in-training Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), they aren’t even in the confines of their school. The two girls have escaped into our world, living off the grid for a year in hopes the Academy and the evil Strigoi (the kind of vampires we know and fear from horror flicks) don’t catch up to them. You see, there was a car accident, Lissa’s family was left dead, and she became the next in line for Queen since the head of another Moroi family was struck by disease (Gabriel Byrne‘s Victor Dashkov). The talk of the school in every good and bad way such status brings, she had to escape.

It’s the perfect introduction point to expose us to what’s happening, everyone’s place in the hierarchy of this parallel existence to ours, and why we should care. It’s royal blood protected by a guardian while a villainous horde hunts them. We get our exposition, Academy Head Guardian Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) rescues them, and we arrive at the location this whole endeavor was named after. We meet the catty clique of popularity led by a mini sparkplug of jealousy in Mia (Sami Gayle) set to destroy Lissa and Rose; Victor’s nerdy daughter Natalie (Sarah Hyland) whom the girls take a shine as friend and ally; and the maybe evil/maybe not duo of bitchy Headmistress Kirova (Olga Kurylenko) and outcast fire-wrangler Christian (Dominic Sherwood), a boy whose parents turned Strigoi and thusly planted the seed he’d follow.

And coming from the director of Mean Girls and screenwriter of Heathers, you can expect a brilliant undercurrent of teen-speak and satirical humor to make you scratch your head with a smile. This is the difference between Vampire Academy and Twilight: where the latter conjures eye-rolling, the former elicits smirks. The dialogue is bad, but playful—the actors over-the-top, but totally in on the joke. There is a high school dynamic whether they must mature into dealing with real dangers or not, so they face each with snarky comments and headstrong confidence rather than defeatist attitudes and broken hearts. These girls are empowered to survive rather than depressed Bellas waiting for their boy toys to rescue them. They do the research, train hard, and fight when the time comes with a willingness to give their lives if necessary.

What more could you ask for? The Waters Brothers filmed what they promised and its wears its adolescent flavor with pride. With dangers lurking outside, something in the school targets Lissa so that everyone must focus on protecting her. Rose has to prove her worth as a guardian once a psychic connection bonding them is revealed and we need to get a handle on who’s who in case box office success leads to a sequel. The big bad is born, important future characters are revealed, and the children rise to save the day when the adults cannot. Deutch is a sarcastic treat; Fry an intriguing damsel in distress with scary latent powers; and the rest a solid base that hopefully grows pitch-black and complex a la Potter in subsequent installments rather than fluffy one-off capers with little stakes.


photography:
[1] (L-R) ZOEY DEUTCH, LUCY FRY and SARAH HYLAND star in VAMPIRE ACADEMY.
Photo: Laurie Sparham Courtesy: The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.
[2] ZOEY DEUTCH and DANILA KOZLOVSKY star in VAMPIRE ACADEMY
Photo: Laurie Sparham © 2013 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
[3] SAMI GAYLE (center) stars in VAMPIRE ACADEMY
Photo: Laurie Sparham © 2013 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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