The Tagline is: “They Suck at School”. So Did These Vampires Suck?

Director: MARK WATERS/2014

For some reason we have been inundated with a constant barrage of teenage vampire films the last few years.  And if anything is certain after this latest film, Vampire Academy, is that they must be stopped.  This sub-genre has run its course.  There are only so many ways to address whatever romantic notion that stories like this hold for love-struck teenagers who long to be special and use their power to save others while allowing for their lives to be saturated with manufactured drama.

This film seeks to build on the success of the Twilight saga while also poking fun at it.  Like TwilightVampire Academy is based on a set of successful books, and is already sinking its teeth (sorry, there will probably be more Vampire puns) into a potential franchise, teasing the next chapter of the story at the end of the film.  But this is simply wishful thinking as this film will hopefully silence the vampire craze for a long time.

Despite my dour mood regarding this film, let me praise it for what it is.  It is miles ahead of Twilight. There are no scenes of endless staring between characters.  There is typical high school drama, but here they train to fight their enemies….not give piggy-back rides in the woods when you say the magic word and then sulk the rest of the movie (see Twilight).  Also, no one sparkles.

There is humor, most of it coming from the character Rose Hathaway (played by Zoey Deutch), who is a half-vampire/half-human called a Dhamphir.  Her job is to train to be the guardian of the pure Vampire princess Lissa Droagomir (Lucy Fry). Lissa is a Moroi, or pure mortal Vampire, and is in danger from the mean, blood-drinking, immortal vampires called Strigoi.

These names mean nothing really, except as some literary device to try to world-build.  Rose looks and sounds as if the character Juno was a vampire warrior cracking jokes as she trained instead of a pregnant teen in a different film.  The Vampire Academy, St. Vladimir’s Academy to be precise, is much like Hogwarts, but with more Vampires, no cool Quidditch matches, lamer magic, and with a sub-plot that could have been a part of the film Mean Girls, which director Mark Waters also directed. At least the headmaster here was a bond girl (Olga Kurylenko-Quantum of Solace), but she has no depth and never ingratiates herself into the lives of her students in the way Dumbledore did.  To further compare it to Harry Potter, there is also a Bellatrix Lestrange-type character in Vampire Academy that plays a minor role in this film. Yet, it seems obvious that she will show up more if we make it to the sequels.

There is more to the film, but to go over the details would just be an exercise in futility and frankly, who really cares?  The fact is that this film is better than last year’s The Host, and it is better than any of the Twilight films on a number of levels.  Many of you will find that comforting and will rush out to see this film as a result.  Please consider however, that despite the success of Twilight and its sequels, or their monetary success, they are by no means good films.  So my saying that Vampire Academy tops them is no real feat, and should not serve as any form of endorsement.

But Vampire Academy does not have the following or the budget that Twilight did, and so many times this ends up looking like a crossover where Mean Girls borrows from Harry Potter, employs Juno, and stars on an ABC After School Special (for those old enough to remember those).

As far as full disclosure, I teach High School and am pretty close to the world and culture of today’s modern teenager.  When I inquired of some students about the Vampire Academy stories, I was told that the books do not try to be a light-hearted version of Twilight, as the movie does, but that they take themselves quite seriously and seek to build a believable world for these stories to function in.  If that is the case, then the director obviously tried to carve out another approach for the film version so as to appeal to a wider audience that would appreciate a little humor along the way.  By widening the door to bring in a bigger audience, he might have narrowed the reach of the film and offended the base of fans who will want to turn out for this, having read the books.

The marketing tag-line for Vampire Academy is “These girls suck at school”, when really they only needed to stop the tag-line after the third word to communicate a true synopsis of the film.  You may have fun watching a million vampire cliches and overused teenage arc-types, but if you really want to have fun watching a real vampire fight their enemies, dress in provocative attire and truly be a warrior, then you need not watch Vampire Academy, you only need to watch her.