In the fantasy world of Vampire Academy, there are mortal vampires that maintain a peace with humanity (a.k.a. the Moroi), their half-human/vampire guardians (known as Dhampirs), and wicked vampires called Strigoi. 17-year old Dhampir Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) and her Moroi best friend Vasilisa “Lissa” Dragomir (Lucy Fry) – a royal vampire princess – were previously students of St. Vladamir’s Academy, a school where Moroi learn to control one of the four elements using magic, while Dhampirs are trained in the art of combat.
Rose and Lissa have been on the run for two years, when they are captured and brought back to St. Vincent’s. However, life at vampire high school is even more treacherous than in the outside world, as Rose and Lissa wind up having to navigate a sea of jealous rivals, unwanted (and wanted) attention from their male peers, disapproving instructors, and a disturbing series of events that suggests someone has it out for Lissa – but who and why remains a mystery. Welcome to life at Vampire Academy (… but don’t call it that).
Based on Richelle Mead’s young adult supernatural novels, the Vampire Academy movie plays out as a blend of Harry Potter-style fantasy world building and Buffy the Vampire Slayer-inspired use of supernatural tropes as (very) thinly-veiled subtext for the modern high school experience. You might expect the film to be all the more darkly witty and shrewd in its insights as a pop anthropological study of teenage life, since it was scripted by Daniel Waters (Heathers) and directed by his brother, Mark Waters (Mean Girls). Unfortunately, so much time is devoted to explaining the Vampire Academy mythology that there’s little room for much else.
Most of the character development and thematic progression in Daniel Waters’ script amounts to clunky exposition dumps in the form of dialogue; in addition to being a weak form of cinematic storytelling, that approach will probably make the Vampire Academy mythos seem all the more confusing to anyone who hasn’t read the books ahead of time. It’s a shame too, since this fantasy world is an interesting one and is deserving of being explored in greater depth. However, the Waters brothers’ movie covers so much territory – cramming in numerous subplots and interweaving too many story threads that are irrelevant to this installment (e.g. included to setup later films) – that it simply cannot do much of the content proper justice – especially, with a runtime under two hours.
The friendship between Rose and Lissa is one of the film’s stronger elements, as Zoey Deutch (Ringer) and Lucy Fry (Mako Mermaids) bring much-needed zest and affection to their roles, which are presented as very generic “strong female” archetypes: spunky and sassy (yet possesses a big heart) as well as proper and kind (but with a mischievous streak), basically. While there’s a lot of convoluted mythology and head-scratching subtext to their relationship – something that holds true for the film in general – Vampire Academy does flesh out their connection in a manner that’s believable and meaningful enough for the film’s purposes. Additionally, the story is foremost about the love between these two young women (the men around them are truly a secondary concern), which is also refreshing for this kind of genre flick.
Visually, the film is nothing special, but it’s at least reasonably professional. Mark Waters and his cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts (Underworld) shot everything in a plain, yet also clean and comfortable fashion, so there’s no framing of the young women to objectify them, and the film tends to rely on quick-cutting rather than pseudo-realistic camerawork (in other words, no shaky cam) during the action sequences. Admittedly, the CGI elements tend to look fairly cheap, but there’s not too much in the way of obvious digital components to really justify complaining that much.
The supporting cast includes Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri Belikov, Rose’s highly-skilled and hunky mentor; their forbidden romance is certainly awkward, but that seems to be at least somewhat intentional. The cast also includes Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment) as sickly high-ranking Morai royal Victor Dashkov, Sarah Hyland (Modern Family) as his socially-aloof daughter Natalie, Olga Kurylenko (Oblivion) as St. Vincent’s stringent Headmistress Kirova, and Claire Foy (Season of the Witch) as Ms. Karp, an instructor from Rose and Lissa’s past. As a general rule, their performances are adequate, no more or less.
Other key characters in the film tend to be Rose and Lissa’s fellow students, including the envious Mia Rinaldi (Sam Gayle), the broody and fire-controlling Christian Ozera (Dominic Sherwood) and Rose’s guy friend – who harbors a secret crush on her – Mason Ashford (Cameron Monaghan) – Joely Richardson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) also shows up for two scenes as the snobby Moroi Queen Tatiana. Sadly, if you haven’t read the source material, then you’ll likely be hard-pressed to remember most of these characters by name after the end credits stop rolling.
To sum it all up, Vampire Academy will probably only satisfy fans of the original books, who just want to see their favorite characters (and the world that they inhabit) brought to life. To most everyone else, this film will seem like yet another inoffensive, yet instantly disposable addition to the growing pile of cheap YA movie adaptations that’ve been released in recent years.
In case you’re still undecided, here is the trailer for Vampire Academy:
Vampire Academy is now playing in theaters. It is 107 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for violence, bloody images, sexual content and language.