Why The Vampire Academy Movie Isn't That Bad - VRGyani News and Media

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Friday, September 24, 2021

Why The Vampire Academy Movie Isn't That Bad

Fans of vampire romances may just be having a second coming. The Vampire Diaries’ universe got some new blood in 2018, with the release of The Originals, and the Twilight renaissance online is proving the immortality of Stephanie Meyer’s love story. Meanwhile, Peacock has picked Richelle Mead’s series of novels Vampire Academy for a TV adaptation. With Sisi Stringer, Daniela Nieves, and Kieron Moore in the cast, the show is set to be released in 2022. However, this isnt the first attempt to take St. Vladimir’s Academy to the screen. The first one happened in 2014. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had been released two years prior, HBO’s True Blood was about to run its seventh and final season, and The CW’s The Vampire Diaries was airing its fifth. The vampire craze had already died down, but there was still room for some supernatural romance starring creatures of the night. It was in this climate that Vampire Academy hit theaters.

RELATED: Peacock's 'Vampire Academy' Series Sets Main Cast, Including 'Mortal Kombat's Sisi Stringer as Rose Hathaway

Based on the first instalment of Mead’s series of novels, the movie was expected to be a hit. The fantasy horror comedy was written by Daniel Waters (Heathers) and directed by his brother, Mark Waters (Mean Girls). The cast featured the then unknown Lucy Fry and Zoey Deutch as vampire princess Lissa Dragomir and her half-human guardian Rose Hathaway, respectively, as well as Gabriel Byrne as main antagonist Victor Dashkov. The plan was to follow up with a sequel, turning Vampire Academy into the newest lucrative young adult film franchise. However, things didn’t quite go as planned.

Critics bashed the movie, which currently has a score of 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience score is higher, at 55%, but to say the movie underperformed at the box office would be an understatement. Worldwide, it failed to repay little more than half of its $30 million budget, which prompted the studio to pull the plug on a second movie. According to MTV News, an IndieGoGo campaign was launched to help fund the sequel, but, to no avail. Vampire Academy was soon forgotten, relegated to the archives of rental and streaming services, as well as to the watchlists of those select few that take pleasure from watching the worst the film industry has to offer. But was this fate fair or does Vampire Academy deserve more credit than it’s been given?

The most common criticisms directed at Vampire Academy are that the acting is bad, the visual effects are poor, and the whole film is little more than an hour-and-forty-minute-long infodump. And, honestly, none of these are wrong. The story has a never ending lore that jumps at unsuspecting viewers at nearly every single scene, the CGI parts are more than kind of ugly, and a lot of the cast members move and talk in a stunted manner, particularly Danila Kozlovsky, who plays Rose’s love interest and fellow guardian, Dimitri. However, even at its most chaotic moments, there is much to love about Vampire Academy.

Starting with Dimitri. The half-human, half-vampire - or Dhampir, to use Vampire Academy’s lingo - was Kozlovsky's first English-speaking role, and it shows. The Russian actor is far from comfortable with the language and his line delivery is frequently unconvincing. Still, Kozlovsky is charming, his smile alone is enough to turn him into an instant heartthrob, and his chemistry with Deutch is undeniable. Dimitri and Rose become close after he offers to train her as Lissa’s guardian, and the two have more sexual tension in a single fight scene than Twilight’s Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Kristen Stewart) have over the course of five movies. Granted, it’s a dynamic that might feel uncomfortable for some, given the age difference between the two characters, but that’s a criticism to which all vampire-lead romances are subjected to. Zoey Deutch herself is also great as Rose, and not only in the scenes that involve Dimitri. Lissa’s reckless and sarcastic guardian is a compelling protagonist that is always going where the action is, and Deutch’s performance sells even the silliest of lines. Anyone that watches Vampire Academy is bound to spend the following month hearing Deutch’s voice whispering sweet nothings like “Jesse has a personality? I didn't know. Don't judge a book by its content” in their brain.

To be fair, even if Deutch’s performance makes Rose’s lines the most memorable of the entire movie, Vampire Academy as a whole is extremely quotable. The screenplay might be confusing, but it sure doesn’t lack the jokes and snarky remarks that the Waters brothers’ previous films are known for. From Lissa calling Oregon “Oregano” to evil minion Spiridion (Ben Peel) claiming that if people say Dimitri is a god, then he is “an atheist with a big gun”, not a minute goes by without a line putting a smile on your face. And, unlike other “so bad they’re good” movies, viewers rarely laugh at the characters. We laugh with them.

That’s because Vampire Academy is well aware of what it is and of what it was intended to be. Daniel and Mark Waters hold no bars when poking fun at vampire and YA tropes, but they also aren’t afraid of telling cheesy love stories aimed at teenage girls. Vampire Academy has no difficulty going from taking a swing at Twilight to intense scenes of forbidden romance to a school dance with a Dracula impersonating DJ playing a CHVRCHES cover of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. In a world where someone felt the need to bring Vampires Suck into existence, Vampire Academy stands out as the greatest parody of vampire movies of its time, precisely for its sincerity. Just like Heathers and Mean Girls became teen movie paragons due to their deep understanding of high school film tropes, Vampire Academy shines the brightest when it allows itself to comment on its own genre.

The Waters’ previous experiences with twisted high school comedies is most likely the reason why the plot that works best in Vampire Academy isn’t the main one, but the queen bees and wannabes subplot. Without previous knowledge of Mead’s novels, it’s nearly impossible for anyone watching the movie for the first time to understand the battle between the aristocratic Moroi and the evil Strigoi vampires, what exactly is up with Lissa’s magical powers, or even the role magic plays in this universe. Much clearer, however, is Lissa’s loss of social status in high school hierarchy and her squabble with the new leader of the popular clique, Mia (Sami Gayle) - or "Mini-Mia", as Rose puts it. All scenes devoted to this supernatural teen drama are a delight to watch, so much so, in fact, that a film based on this subplot would be a nearly guaranteed hit.

Connecting the two storylines, apart from Rose and Lissa, is Natalie Dashkov (Sarah Hyland), the villain hiding in plain sight. Natalie is Victor’s daughter and, just like Lissa, a part of vampire aristocracy. Much like her father, who presents himself as a sickly old man, she doesn’t pose any apparent threat to film's main characters: small and nerdy, Natalie follows Rose and Lissa around like a lost puppy. However, while it's somewhat obvious that Victor is the true mastermind behind whatever is going on at St. Vladimir’s, Natalie’s heel turn at the final third of the movie is completely unexpected. Hyland delivers a stellar performance both as the school’s resident weird girl and as a maniac killer with fangs.

Vampire Academy ends in a somewhat inconclusive and anticlimactic way, with a cliffhanger for a sequel that the studio was sure would follow. Instead, the movie was burned at the stake and buried in a coffin in the deepest recesses of fans’ minds. And, to be sure, Vampire Academy is a messy adaptation and a confusing movie on its own. However, if we shine a light on it, we soon realise that not every part of the film turns to dust. Between the scenes of endless infodump and Victor Dashkov’s awful CGI guard wolves (or psi hounds), there’s a funny, charming movie that deserves a new life.

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