Directed by Mark Waters. Starring Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Dominic Sherwood, Cameron Monaghan, Sami Gayle, Sarah Hyland, Olga Kurylenko, Gabriel Byrne, Joely Richardson. (2014, PG-13, 104 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 14, 2014
Based on Richelle Mead’s bloodlusty and wildly popular series of young adult novels, Vampire Academy proves, if little else, that the tween/teen market for young vamps in love and death remains, in a word, unquenchable. Neither as polished as the Twilight franchise, nor as explicitly carnal as earlier, better forays into what is now a well-established subgenre of toothy adolescent females with exsanguination issues (John Fawcett’s 2000 film Ginger Snaps – a wicked-smart and thoroughly unnerving depiction of budding female sexuality – comes to mind), Vampire Academy instead plays like the flip side of the Buffy mythos twinned with Percy Jackson and the Olympians by way of Mean Girls, with a side of (what else?) Harry Potter. Screenwriter Daniel Waters penned the bona fide high school freak-out Heathers, as well, but that only makes this garish soap opera all the more depressingly banal. It’s sporadically fun but by no means as fulfilling as its vampiric antecedents. It’s vamp-lite-lit turned into film-franchise material for the novel’s built-in, core audience.
The story has enough expositional background to fill two Underworld outings, but the gist of it lies in a war between the Moroi and the Strigoi. The former is a race of pseudo-Nosferatu who feed off willing partners when they’re not dealing with typical teenage issues (boys, blood, and bonding), and are led by the half-human/half-vampire Rose (Deutch) and Lissa (Fry), a Moroi princess. In an interesting twist, the fanged Moroi are mortal, whereas the Strigoi are the more traditional creatures of the night, complete with glowing peepers and pallid demeanors. Vampire Academy kicks off with these two besties fleeing the titular academy for reasons unknown. They’re quickly spirited back to the academy (in Montana, no less), where a PG-13, girl-on-girl attraction between Rose and Lissa is less than fully explored, Rose gets all hot and bothered by her muscular fisticuffs tutor Dimitri (Kozlovsky), and the living death that is high school is reimagined as, well, pretty much as you probably remember it – with the addition of some mild bloodletting and far too much “witty” sass.
It’s not a complete disaster, but even the appearance of Gabriel Byrne, as Lissa’s uncle Victor, fails to make much of a dent in the slapdash proceedings. Presumably, this is only the first adaptation of Mead’s six-volume young adult series. We can only hope the inevitable sequel will settle down into a darker, less comic groove. But I wouldn’t bet my stake on it.