Vampire Academy (2014)

Cashing in on the vampire craze of the last several years, Vampire Academy is a film based on a best-selling series of novels — the first one, in particular — that I’d never even heard of before this adaptation had a trailer. Apparently they’re popular with teenage girls. It’s not dissimilar to Twilight and Harry Potter, mostly in that it features vampires and is set in a school in which they do magic. No, seriously: All the vampires can do magic. Part of their training has them choose a certain type — air, water, fire, etc. — to try to master. I can see why the books are popular.

What surprised me about Vampire Academy is that it turns into a mystery movie part way through. We’ve got good and evil vampires, half-human, half-vampire people called “dhampirs,” as well as normal humans, we’re introduced to a bevy of characters, we’ve got a supernatural high school environment, and we’ve got the director of Mean Girls, one of the best high school satire films ever. And we get a mystery movie out of all of this? Well, okay, movie. You have my attention.

The film is lead and narrated by Zoey Deutch, here playing a dhampir named Rose. She and her best friend, Lissa (Lucy Fry), are telepathically linked, and attend St. Vincent, a.k.a. not-Hogwarts, a school for both vampires and dhampirs. The former practice magic while the latter learn how to fight. For some reason the status quo is such: A dhampir protects his or her vampire against anything — primarily the evil vampires. They’re the vampires’ guardians. Why? Ask someone who read the books. The film briefly questions this rhetorically but then ignores it and never explains why.

It’s especially important for Rose to train to better protect Lissa, because Lissa is in line for the throne. There’s a king or queen to rule over all the vampires, and he or she has to come from one of twelve families. Again, it isn’t explained and ultimately doesn’t matter why.

We get a lot of front-loaded exposition from Vampire Academy, primarily delivered to us through voice-over narration. Once the plot finally gets to the point, we find out that there are people inside the school who dislike Lissa, and they use dead animals and messages on the wall written in blood to tell her that she should leave or face some sort of consequences. Someone read The Chamber of Secrets. It’s now up to Rose, Lissa, and a nerdy friend of theirs named Natalie (Sarah Hyland) to try to solve who’s behind it all. Is it the Headmistress (Olga Kurylenko)? Is it bullies and former lovers? Is it someone unsuspecting? Do you really think I’m going to tell you here?

As someone who isn’t a teenage girl or an avid reader of young adult fiction, Vampire Academy still felt familiar. Perhaps it’s because its inspirations are about as mainstream as they come. Whether that’s a problem with the source material or the adaptation is going to be up to someone who experiences both to figure out. I just know that from seeing the film, it felt very similar to other works.

It also appeared very choppy, as if it was cut down to fit into a specific time frame. Almost ever novel will have some elements removed to save on time but this one in particular was noticeable. Characters sometimes completely switch motivation between scenes while giving a one-line explanation like “I’ve come to my senses” without any reason. At least two times made me feel as if a longer film was being prepared but it was cut down. Or maybe that’s how it was in the book, or the screenplay simplified it and removed some motivations.

Vampire Academy does a decent enough job attempting to develop and endear us to its characters — or, should I say, to Rose. Our lead is sarcastic and charming, which helps a surprising amount. She’s fed up with the genre’s clich√©s and occasionally points that out. Everyone else seems bound by them. But, since our lead shares our viewpoint, it almost makes them feel satirical, as if some of director Mark Waters’ Mean Girls spirit is still in there, fighting to permeate the film’s generic material with intelligence and wit.

That’s moderately successful. Vampire Academy isn’t a bore in large part because once it finds its legs, it’s relatively funny and fast-paced. It’s predictable and ordinary, but there’s enough there to keep it from being a slog. An action scene here or there — zoomed-in, quick-cut edited, action, but action nonetheless — a funny quip or two every few minutes, and more cringe-worthy dialogue from everyone not played by Zoey Deutch that you’ll likely be entertained ironically or seriously, but entertained regardless.

I have no idea if Vampire Academy will please fans. I don’t pretend to know. What I can say is that for the most part, I was entertained by what it had to offer. It somewhat subverts its generic inspirations and roots, it’s moderately funny, and its mystery will likely surprise its target audience. It feels chopped up, like it’s missing a few pieces, its action is bad, its dialogue is cringe-worthy, and it explains a lot of things about its universe that ultimately don’t matter, but I wasn’t bored and I can’t say the promise of a sequel doesn’t sound just a little enticing.

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