To be honest, Vampire Academy has flown under the YA radar compared to, say, Twilight or The Hunger Games. In the age of supernatural teen romance, separating one series from another can be confusing. And that’s a shame for Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy (a 2008 Teens’ Top Ten winner), because there is something refreshingly snarky, self-aware and interesting about the series. In a sea of vampires and werewolves Vampire Academy stands out because of its acerbic tone and surprising focus on a strong friendship between two young women, as opposed to romance (which there is still plenty of). And when I heard the Waters brothers (famous for Mean Girls and Heathers) were set to write and direct this film, it became even more imperative that I check it out opening weekend.
Rotten Tomatoes has given Vampire Academy a horrifying 9%, which just goes to show that I don’t care how adult men feel about teenage movies (unless they are actually the Waters brothers). However, the audience rating is 78% and gives the film an average of 4 out of 5 stars, which is exactly on point, in my opinion. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but I’m inclined to rate it somewhere near Jennifer’s Body in the tradition of “movies parents just don’t understand but that speak authentically to the teen girl experience as supernatural metaphor.”
Imagine, if you will, a self-aware, postmodern Twilight. Or Mean Girls with vampires. Or even season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with better special effects. High school is the perfect setting for vampires and all manner of creatures that go bump in the night precisely because it is so terrifying, and Mark Waters, director of Mean Girls and now Vampire Academy, has shows us he knows exactly why. The film is almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pacing, with wild, unpredictable dialogue, moments that feel improbable but are gone in the blink of an eye, shopping montages, and violent action sequences that break up school dances. Not too far off from how high school really is, in other words.
The film opens with the return of Rose Hathaway, a Dhampir (half-vampire) guardian of her Moroi (peaceful, mortal vampire) BFF Lissa Dragomir, to Vampire Academy (actually called St. Vladimir’s Academy) after a year on the run. Tough, motormouth Rose (played by the impressive Zoey Deutch) isn’t happy to be back at school, where rumors of how she spent her year on the run abound and where Lissa (Lucy Fry), an actual vampire princess, is vulnerable to cliques and status. The girls must figure out how to stop a plot of immortal, bloodthirsty vampires from eliminating Lissa’s chance to inherit the throne as vampire queen while navigating the tricky world of high school romance, friendship, and everything in between. I compared it to Jennifer’s Body because the film understands that there is an element of sexuality in the friendship between teen girls, and Rose and Lissa’s relationship often goes right up to that line.
The mythology was underdeveloped, and Rose’s love interest, Dhampir mentor Dimitri, is rocking a seriously hideous mullet and seriously bad acting skills. The entire first six minutes of the film is dialogue-as-exposition, and certain aspects of character’s relationships were downright unclear.
However, I still loved this movie more than I can reasonably explain. I loved it because high school is hell and because friendship is more important than romance. I loved the self-aware, punchy dialogue and the way the film works as both parody of and homage to supernatural romance. I think best of all I loved Lissa’s final speech to her classmates, which nestles itself snugly in the canon of teen films and works almost as a direct successor to Mean Girls. Tina Fey reminded us, in 2005, that girls have “got to stop calling each other sluts and whores.” But in Vampire Academy, Lissa directly chastises her classmates for slut-shaming and bullying. Teenage girls are literally doing it for themselves, and I am ready for the sequel as sure as I am ready for Dimitri’s haircut.
-Chelsea Condren, currently reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell