Saturday, June 21, 2014

Vampire Academy (2014) review

     Vampire Academy is a series which has a good deal of personal meaning to me. When I first heard of Richelle Meade, she was the author of the Georgina Kincaid series that my wife and I were big fans of. Both of us were leery of reading a Young Adult series, back before The Hunger Games made it cool, so we approached Vampire Academy with some trepidation. The fact I was a big fan of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, especially the early years, made my hesitation all the more inexplicable.

    I feel silly now, not picking up the series earlier, because I very much enjoyed the adventures of Rose Hathaway. She's every bit as fun as Buffy Summers and her adventures were a good deal more adult than I expected. The books were funny, the supporting cast interesting, and unexpected twists happened all the time. I disliked the ending a bit because of "shipping" but a shipping-based complaint is the second most worthless one in fandom. What's the first? Not writing fast enough (see George R.R. Martin).

    But how is the movie?

The Buffy influences are there (and welcome) but don't overwhelm the movie.
    Not as good as the book but better than I expected. Which, I admit, leaves a lot of room for interpretation. However, the short version is the movie has the potential for cult-classic status or "beloved b-movie" enjoyment due to the excellent performance of Zoey Deutch and the surprisingly quotable dialogue peppered throughout.

    Gabriel Byrne overacts every scene he's in and his refusal to take the movie seriously elevates the material in much the same way Frank Langella did with Masters of the Universe's Skeletor (albeit, Gabe is no Frank Langella). The premise of Vampire Academy is there is an entire race of "living vampires" called the Moroi who possess elemental powers. They are guarded by their half-human offspring, called dhampir. Hunting these living vampires and their bodyguards are the decidedly undead vampires known as the Strigoi.

    One dhampir bodyguard-in-training named Rose Hathaway is guarding her friend Lissa, who she feels is in danger. This leads her to ditch school for a year, trying avoid the unseen danger. There's also a subplot about the fact Lissa can control minds like a "movie" vampire, see the future, and heal the injured. This is no more complex plot than Voldemort was stopped by Harry Potter but not completely yet the movie struggles to lay it out for the audience. The film has a heavy-handed exposition scene at the beginning but what was really needed was someone saying, "There's good vampires, bad vampires, and the first group's kids. The good vampires can do magic. Except Lissa who does really weird magic."

More school library scenes should be in every movie. Don't ask me why.
     The movie is further complicated by the fact the majority of the film revolves not around the monsters trying to kill them but the fact Lissa and Rose are unpopular. The causal cattiness and bullying of high school is depicted well, also the rampant homophobia (Lissa and Rose exchange blood--and I was disappointed it wasn't more than that), but it's not as engaging a plot as the one with the Strigoi. I will give the movie credit, though. When one of your teenage protagonists has the power of mind-control, it realizes there's no way in hell she's going to remain unpopular long.

   Where the movie shines, however, is it's dialogue. Here's just a sampling thereof:

   Rose Hathaway: [Tries to tackle Dimitri but fails] What did I do wrong? I had you.     

   Dimitri Belikov: The battle cry was your first mistake.

    Rose Hathaway: I lied, Lissa doesn't think that you're a creepy stalker, she actually likes you.
    Christian Ozera: Then why did you-?
    Rose Hathaway: Because I think that you're a creepy stalker and *I* don't like you.

    Rose Hathaway: Lissa used to like Hot Topic, too. Then, she turned 12.

    The later is doubly hilarious since I've seen Vampire Academy shirts there.

    Where the movie falls down is not everyone is capable of keeping up with the witty banter and comic timing of Zoey Deutch. Most of the actors do a serviceable job of portraying their roles but Saint Vladimir's academy is a little too much "ordinary high school" and not enough neo-feudalist palace. I went to a private school for twelve years and IT was creepier and more Gothic than this one.

    A school in Ohio.

    In short, the results are worth-watching and I encourage people to both check out the movie and read the original series. This is by no means a great film but I enjoyed it and wish the movie had taken a few different choices as well as spread out the running length to two hours so it could properly develop its pacing. As is, it's a zany mess which is worth a rental but not a franchise starter--which is a shame.


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