MOVIE: ‘Vampire Academy’ doesn’t suck

Tanisha Dasmunshi

The mixture of witty high school comedy and supernatural horror makes for a messy but strangely hilarious flick.

‘Vampire Academy’, based on the series of   novels by Richelle Mead, begins by blaring the song “Bad Girls” by M.I.A, then immediately transitions to a tragic car crash scene. It was this sudden shift from a lighthearted mood to seriousness that eclipsed the Feb. 7 release, as if the directors could not decide whether they wanted to make a comedy or a traditional vampire horror epic.

vampire academy
‘Vampire Academy’ tries to balance hilarious high school politics with an intense mythological world. However, it doesn’t always succeed. Source: The Weinstein Company.

 The result is a hilarious blend of snarky ‘Mean Girls’ style quips about high school, a few well executed fight scenes and cheesy renditions of supernatural elements. The plot centers around best friends Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry), a vampire royal, and Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), her guardian-in-training. After being caught on the run, the duo is brought back to the boarding school from which they escaped. Add in a tragic past for the main characters, mean death threats, a slut-shaming, judgmental and catty boarding school populace with crazy teachers (ring a bell?) and you’ve got ‘Vampire Academy.’

The hasty exposition at the beginning of the movie to quickly explain this mythological world’s different take on vampires does not do justice to the intricate world-building found in the book series. In this world of vampires, there are three kinds — the Moroi, the mortal royals who drink blood but aren’t killed by the sun, the Dhampir, who are half human bodyguards for the Moroi with supernatural strength, as well as the traditionally vampiric and terrifying Strigoi. The world Mead created had different and detailed hierarchical structures that took the author six books to fully explore. When I read the series a few years ago, I remember her artfully balancing the comedic and the serious — but in this film, the sudden shifts of tone meant that I was giggling during what was supposed to be a tearful scene.

While there were some fairly chilling side plots (death threats in the form of dead animals, and Ms. Karp’s crazy eyes) the supposedly “horrifying” climax had absurd CGI monsters that lead to the audience bursting into laughter. Similarly, Rose’s strange and stilted communication with her mother had me doing spit-takes, while intentional jokes about teenage behaviors (“What’s a hashtag?” asks an isolated vampire teenager) fell flat.

I loved the aesthetics of this film: gorgeous boarding school architecture, uniforms, the Russian influence that stayed true upto the accents. The directors didn’t seem to care about the supernatural parts of this movie though, so the cinematography didn’t feel even vaguely dark and scary — it was replaced by well lit (and funny) shopping scenes. But even the focus on high school drama couldn’t stop this movie from occasionally cheesing over. Rose’s voiceovers, with floating text on the screen and abrupt shifts of scenes added to a corny and confusing, yet fast-paced film.

Many critics were discontent with ‘Vampire Academy’ but I still recommend this oddball of a movie — its absurdity was side-splitting. Strange special effects aside, I appreciated the focus on best-friendship over romance (which similar YA movies like ‘Twilight’ fail to do) and the “stop slut-shaming” message that Lissa victoriously announces at the end to her peers (which is actually quite prevalent in recent mainstream movies). Watch it for the best-friend bonding scenes, the extreme portrayal of high school sucking (pun intended) and its unintentional hilarity. As a fellow movie-goer said to me, “You’ll feel like you shouldn’t enjoy it, but you probably will.”