Note: I am a huge fan of the Vampire Academy book series.
I went into a Thursday night screening of Vampire Academy with a mix of expectations. For one, I was excited to see one of my all-time favorite series come to life on the big screen. On the other hand, I had no idea if Vampire Academy could be adapted into a film well. One thing I was worried about was if the movie would balance out the very many different tones that make VA an entertaining book. (For the record, I think it does.)
But I guess what I didn’t realize beforehand is of how it would handle the world that Richelle Mead creates in the book. It’s quite complicated compared to other vampire lore. The story follows two best friends, Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) and Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry). They are students at the prestigious St. Vladmir’s Academy, a school set in the secret world of both Moroi (good) and Strigoi (evil) vampires and their half-human/half-vampire counterparts, dhampirs. Rose is a dhampir, who has sworn to protect her best friend, since Lissa is the last of her royal family’s line. Not only is there a fierce loyalty between the two, but they have magical, one-way mind connection of sorts. Rose can read and experience Lissa’s feelings and actions. Of course, the ability does come with some major disadvantages.
When a threat against Lissa arises, Rose is dedicated to solving the mystery of who is behind the threat. All the while, we see Rose as she weaves through romantic entanglements, friendships, mean girl confrontations with the badass attitude that fans have come to love and respect.
With a book, especially a series, you’re given enough time to be introduced to the new world and slowly come to understand it. It’s really not until the third or fourth book where all the intricacies of that world start to come into play. That’s perfectly okay… when talking about a series. When we’re talking about a feature-length film, there’s no imaginable way to pack all that information in without it feeling inorganic. Unfortunately, that’s the case for Vampire Academy. This story wasn’t really made to be a movie. (A TV series or miniseries on the other hand… let’s talk about all the amazing possibilities that could’ve derived.)
With that in mind, I think the Waters brothers make the best of it. When I talked to author Richelle Mead a week ago, she praised Dan Waters (Heathers) script saying that he carried through her story and tone to the screenplay in a faithful manner. He totally does. The movie is beyond faithful to book, maybe even too faithful. It’s tailor-made for book fans. That is part of the reason why I enjoyed it so much, just to see this world and characters who I invested time in for the past couple years come to life on film. It was fun and thrilling and gave me all the feels. I almost feel bad about nitpicking at it, but I’m trying to be as fair about as I can.
The thing is it’s impossible for me to look at this movie objectively. Because I loved every moment of it. I was reliving a favorite book in a new medium, giving me a new experience of the story. That alone I cherish. Despite the film’s many, many flaws, like the fact that it’s a film at all, I can’t deny that I wanted more once the end credits began to roll.
The cast was surprisingly better than expected. Zoey Deutch was a perfect Rose Hathaway. Her screen presence was full of enthusiasm and charisma. She nailed Rose’s attitude and delivered her witty and sometimes corny quips with perfect tone and timing. The chemistry between Lucy Fry and Dominic Sherwood, who plays Lissa’s love interest/classmate Christian Ozera, was dead-on, and I even liked the scenes between Dominic and Zoey. Danila Kozlovsky had charming moments as Rose’s trainer, Dimitri, but he seemed a little too awkward at times while delivering dialogue. Sarah Hyland also provided a good performance as dorky classmate, Natalie, and Cameron Monaghan was adorable as Mason, one of Rose’s dhampir friends and admirers; I wished he had more screen time.
The plot of the movie follows all the same twists and turns as the book does. It can be confusing for people who aren’t familiar with the story. There are a ton of subplots at play and not all of them get answered because they aren’t meant to until later on in the series. It would’ve been a good idea to cut down on some of these in order to make the story flow better cinematically. This again brings me back to what I was saying earlier on how VA would’ve made a better TV show.
Regardless, as I’ve convinced readers throughout the years, Vampire Academy is a lot better than it sounds. This movie is hardly a disaster and not as bad as other critics make it out to be. Frankly, it’s just made for a narrower demographic that really doesn’t include those critics, and it didn’t help that the filmmakers seemed to focus on making book fans happy. As a book fan, I’m very happy. As a movie buff, I hoped for better but am not displeased with slightly messy, campy but funny and entertaining vamp dramedy I got. (Plus, it passes the Bechdel test. #GirlPower)
Vampire Academy is now in theaters. See it, so we can get a sequel, people.
Watch the Chvrches music video for their cover of “Bela Lugosis’s Dead,” which breaks down the Vampire Academy world and features a bunch of scenes from the movie.