Mark Waters’ Vampire Academy is yet another YA fantasy adaptation, a genre that – it seems to me – is finally on the wane. When the Twilight series came to a close, and Harry Potter was long gone, the magic-heavy, chosen-one-centric, teen-intended genre of angsty young people entering a secret world of spells and monsters finally started to contract. There are two remaining films in the Hunger Games series, and they’ll make enough money, but I sense – in films like the upcoming Divergent – that audiences are through. It seems to me like YA movies have explored everything they can. Like the superhero genre, all we can hope for at this point is a few entertaining films that repeat what we’ve seen in a perhaps entertaining way.
I’m happy to report that Vampire Academy is actually a pretty fun little flick that shoots for flip and actually lands there. Indeed, while something like the lugubrious The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones tries really, really hard to look likes its all sexed up and subversive, Vampire Academy actually does feel a little bit naughty. When the story occasionally slows down for the teen characters to have real conversations about real high school stuff, Vampire Academy – written by Daniel Waters, the writer of Heathers, and directed by the guy who did Mean Girls – turns into a singing, catty teen soap laced with equal parts affability, sexiness, and outright self-aware camp.
The titular Academy is St. Vladimir’s boarding school, an ancient private prep school for vampire teens. In this universe, most vampires are benevolent people, they can go out in the sun on a limited basis, they hate the “V” word, and refer to themselves as Moroi. It’s only when you kill someone that you turn evil, and transform into the more traditional vampires, called Strigoi. All the Miroi are protected by an army of hard-working human familiars. Our main characters are vampire princess Lissa (Lucy Fry) and her best friend-cum-human protector Rose (Zoey Deutch). They have been on the run from the Academy for unknown reasons, fighting off evil vampires and eluding capture. They are, however, eventually recaptured and forced to re-enter the student body.
From there, Lissa and Rose have to grapple with the usual catty crap of teenage life. Which boys do they make out with? Which teachers do they crush on? Will it be Rose’s hunky Russian trainer (Danila Kozlofsky)? Will Lissa use her developing magical powers to become more popular and take down the school bitch? Will Rose try to keep Lissa away from boys? How do they investigate the movie’s central mystery and evade capture by the evil dean? And is it cool or is it desperate to have a threesome in this universe? How much slut-shaming will go on? And do I detect a twinge of Sapphic affection between our leading ladies?
There is indeed a conspiracy at the heart of Vampire Academy, but it hardly matters. The best parts come from Rose’s flip delivery, and the film’s general comic energy. The banter is quick and furious and fun to watch, even if it stops from time to time to have actual story. What’s more, there is an appealing queer undercurrent to Vampire Academy that a lesser YA film would not have even attempted. Rose and Lissa were hiding out on the road together, and Rose would occasionally offer Lissa her own blood to feed on, which is taboo. When they return to school, the students catch wind of the blood sharing, and mock her as a “bloodwhore.” Do you see what’s going on here? The two girls are kind of in love (the way best friends are) and may even be attracted to one another, but don’t want to be pegged as lesbians in public, yet don’t care in private. Their relationship seems sweet and realistic.
The sex jokes fly fast and the school portions are so appealing that it’s almost a pity when the actual plot takes over in the third act, and everything – by screenwriting necessity – culminates in a Big Fight. I don’t care who the Big Bad is, and I’m tired of complicated mythos (every damn film has to have a “mythos” these days. My brain is full. I can’t take no more). I just want to know if these girls will stay friends and what boys they’ll end up boinking. And who is the big villain? Well I’ll joint point out that Gabriel Byrne is in the film and leave it at that.
Vampire Academy is a bit overly-complicated, but its natural sexuality and affable characters take it a long way.