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Before I talk about Vampire Academy, let me get some stuff out of the way:
Vampire Academy is about an academy for vampires so obviously during the movie you wonder if Vampire Academy has rival schools that play them in sports and stuff, and think of additional schools such as:
International School of Werewolf Studies
Frankenstein Country Day
The Gill-Man Institute of Technology
The Mortal Instruments: Campus of Bones
But apart from that train of thought, I went into Vampire Academy ready and willing to take it as seriously as I needed to take it. Most of the movie, as it turns out, is an exploration of how seriously you should be taking Vampire Academy and, by extension, the life you’ve lead that resulted in you sitting in a movie theater on a Monday night watching Vampire Academy.
The presence of who are now billed, apparently, as the Waters Brothers, suggests that one should take the movie itself seriously (because a team-up of the guy who wrote Heathers and his brother who directed Mean Girls seems so natural that it also seems like some kind of a trick) while allowing the movie itself to not take it too seriously (because Heathers and Mean Girls are both very funny movies that puncture high school melodrama with non-vampire fangs). Daniel Waters and Mark Waters are ideally equipped to make a movie that casually and charmingly tear down the romantic dopiness of the Twilight series and replace it with snappier expressions of adolescent angst.
If they ever go back and make a movie about smart-mouthed vampire teenagers at a boarding school, I still think that could happen.
But Vampire Academy is not so much a movie about smart-mouthed vampire teenagers at a boarding school as it is a budget would-be franchise-starter based on a series of popular YA novels. So yes, some of the vampires are smart-mouthed and some of them are teenagers and there is a boarding school involved, but those easily understandable descriptions are too meager for the complex, multi-generational, heavily detailed and completely fucking pointless mythology that this movie is built around.
Here is a little tip for screenwriters and YA writers and pretty much anyone putting pen to paper about teenagers and magic, years too late to save Beautiful Creatures or The Mortal Instruments or any other movie I’ve seen in the past year-plus that chokes on mythology and then turns blue and purple on screen as the mythology stays lodged the throat of its corpse:
Mythology is not cinematic.
It sounds cinematic, I know! Mythology! Maybe you picture Greek Gods or centaurs or minotaurs or Middle Earth when you hear the word! But mythology is not just the fun of centaurs and/or minotaurs. Mythology, if it is made into a crucial component of your movie, is actually just a form of exposition, or at least requires a fair amount of it. And exposition is usually non-visual information. And movies, at least in theory, are a visual medium. So while mythology may make your movie sound grand and epic, it may actually weigh your movie down with information about something that is so clearly made up that no one really needs additional information about it.
Of course, as with mythology, there are ways to cleverly work exposition into your movie. I to this day cannot believe that people have a problem with Ellen Page’s character in Inception, supposedly because she exists to have the rules of the Inceptionverse explained to her and to ask questions on behalf of the audience. But the thing is, Ellen Page’s character asks way smarter questions than I would ask about this stuff, and is also a character with thoughts and opinions, and who moves the story along quite handily. She is the proverbial new kid being shown around the cafeteria on the first day of school. Hey! Speaking of that: Mean Girls! Mark Waters directed a movie that used voiceover, exposition, and a high school version of mythology (more like anthro, I guess, but still) very, very well.
Vampire Academy goes as far as to actually tee up a cafeteria-intro scene and call attention to it, and then, I guess because Daniel Waters imagines he is poking at convention here, then doesn’t actually have that scene where we meet a bunch of Vampire Academy students, organized by lunch table. I guess he thought that would be too cliché, or beside the point, or maybe there is so much goddamned mythology in this movie that there is no room for anything else that takes up more than half a minute. It engages in a lot of “world-building” while ignoring just how much world-building the title has already done: it’s a school for vampires! Got it! Done! But this movie would rather explain the hierarchal process by which Vampire Academy administration happens to be formed than, you know, have anything to do with vampires going to boarding school.
Here’s what I was able to glean: there are three types of vampires at and around this academy, except one kind aren’t really vampires. There are the bad vampires, who are presumably not welcome to matriculate, who want to kill the pretty good royal vampires (who don’t kill humans, at least as far as we can see), and the non-vampires who protect said royal vampires. This movie is about Rose (Zoey Deutch), a non-vampire protector who has bonded with pretty good vampire Lissa (Lucy Fry). So a semi-reverse-slayer, basically. Rose can sometimes see what Lissa sees, a power that allows her to both better protect her and absorb even more exposition, in part concerning a mystery about who is trying to intimidate and/or kill Lissa and/or Rose. There are also, by my rough estimate, forty to fifty boys in the movie, subject of various crushes and entanglements that the movie finds far less interesting than the (again, by my rough estimate) one thousand different types of royal vampire families who blah blah blah blah arrrrgggghhhh. There’s one who looks like a lil’ Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, one who got my attention by also being named Jesse (SUCH a hot name right now), and then Rose naturally, by which I mean creepily, falls for the one who’s actually an adult man. In general, the I-hate-high-school backstabbing and gossiping and hooking up feels like an afterthought as Important Mythology Characters jostle for screentime with characters who might actually be funny or affecting. The gossip in Vampire Academy conceals itself within the elaborate mythology, which could be a sly joke if the delivery was remotely interesting.
The most disappointing thing about Vampire Academy (the movie, not the higher-ed institution) is that Zoey Deutch, who I’d never really heard of before, is quite good in it. She’s the one who displays the most frequent signs of Daniel Waters wiseassery; at least fifty percent, if not closer to seventy percent, of her wisecracks don’t really land, but they come a lot closer to landing than they should because there’s something appealingly brusque and no-nonsense about Deutch’s delivery. I may have mentioned Ellen Page earlier because Deutch has a similar fast-talking vibe, and she looks like Page crossed with Rose Byrne. Her performance and character in this particular mythology-flooded enterprise left me with the odd sensation of thinking, boy, I’d like to watch a whole movie about her instead — during a movie where she is, in fact, the main character.
So Vampire Academy isn’t painful to watch, mainly because of Deutch and the stray good lines Daniel Waters feeds her and a lucky few. But it plays uncomfortably like a pilot for a show that gets better seven or eight episodes in, shortly before its cancellation. It also gives the distinct impression that I could read Vampire Academy books all day every day and still not learn a goddamned thing about Vampire Math, Vampire Art, or Vampire Biology. I guess it’s off to Vampire Summer School for me. In related news, be sure to check out SportsAlcohol.com Presents: Vampire Summer School, coming to an e-reader just as soon as we can make up a bunch of stupid backstory.