Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) is a dhampire, a half-vampire, half-human, and in accordance with tradition sworn bodyguard of vampire princess Vasilisa Dragomir (Lucy Fry) while they both attend St. Vladimir's Academy. Best friends since childhood, Rose and Lissa share an inseparable psychic bond which gets awkward at times though they have each other's best interests at heart. While Lissa is a Moroi, a breed of noble vampires that co-exist peacefully among humans, feed off blood donors and wield awesome elemental magical powers, she remains under constant threat from the evil, bestial Strogoi. Having fled the academy for reasons neither can remember, the girls are reluctantly hauled home by handsome, no-nonsense bodyguard Dimitri Belikov (Danila Kozlovsky) on whom Rose develops a serious crush. Meanwhile Lissa returns to find her boyfriend has dumped her for bitchy Mia Rinaldi (Sami Gayle) but ends up engaging in fanged flirting with bad boy Christian Ozera (Dominic Sherwood), even though Rose is suspicious of his motives. In the midst of all this teen romantic angst, Rose attempts to unravel the mystery of just who wants Lissa dead and aims to conquer the world.
Great things were expected of this team-up between Heathers (1989) screenwriter Daniel Waters and his brother Mark Waters, director of Mean Girls (2004). Both smart, sharp-witted high school comedies. Based on the bestselling novel by Rochelle Mead, this was the Weinstein Company's bid for a slice of the lucrative teen fantasy market spawned by the monster success of Twilight (2008). Alas, Vampire Academy crashed and burned at the American box office joining the ranks of Ender's Game (2013), Beautiful Creatures (2013), The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013), I Am Number Four (2011) and The Host (2013), films whose fervent fan-base somehow failed to translate into bums on seats at the cinema. Yet many of these perceived failures held enough interesting elements to suggest, much like the fantasy flops of the 1980s, some may yet be re-evaluated as cult classics. One would hope such a fate befell Vampire Academy which in spite of the drubbing it took from critics boasts a compelling premise, some very likeable characters and packs a winning degree of invention and lacerating wit.
Breakneck vamp action punctuated by smart-ass quips are the order of the day and while Mark Waters trades the magical ambiance he bestowed upon underrated children's fantasy The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) for a curiously mundane look marked by surprisingly cheap-looking production values (including the usual substandard CGI werewolves), he handles the fast-paced fight scenes well enough. The film bears the signs of hasty post-production editing, being over-reliant on Rose's acerbic narration for narrative glue. For example the prologue speeds by like a blur barely establishing the psychic link between Rose and Lissa along with the death of the latter's parents in a mysterious car crash. While the Waters siblings fumble Rochelle Mead's appreciably labyrinthine mystery plot, the sinewy unfolding twists and turns do prove satisfying including the explanation for Rose's Swiss cheese-like memory. The filmmakers do better outlining the teen allegorical undertones charting the heroines' struggles negotiating the social perils and pitfalls of high school. Mead's text displays undeniably ingenuity in reworking teen issues like self-harming, sexual exploitation and prejudice and concocts offbeat ideas such as the Moroi surviving off blood donated by smitten Twilight fans and how Rose's willing donation to best friend Lissa has her labelled a “blood whore” by snarky vampire boys.
In particular, quite unlike the mopey, passive-aggressive Bella Swann, Rose Hathaway emerges a pleasingly feisty, outspoken heroine. She makes out with hot vampire boys without the angst yet still proves a selfless, steadfastly loyal, smart and resourceful friend to the more vulnerable Lissa. Curiously perceived as miscast by some critics, Zoey Deutch is a delight and has evidently inherited her mother, Lea Thompson's gift for comedy. Looking fine in school uniform, she ably embodies a sexy kick-ass action heroine and spits out great one-liners that prove Daniel Waters has not lost his knack with a killer quip. Elsewhere, Russian megastar Danila Kozlovsky makes a charismatic Hollywood debut as the ruggedly handsome, monosyllabic Dimitri while Modern Family's Sarah Hyland is outstanding, cast against type as bespectacled geek Natalie. With the lead roles bestowed on relative unknowns the film leaves the showy supporting roles to heavy-hitters like Gabriel Byrne as Rose's ailing vampire mentor Victor Dashkov, Bond girl Olga Kurylenko as sinister Headmistress Kirova, Claire Foy as eccentric schoolteacher Ms. Karp and Joely Richardson as the imperious vampire queen Tatiana.
Vampire Academy does not do anything Buffy the Vampire Slayer did not do better fifteen years ago but it is smart, funny and entertaining. It also exhibits a pleasing social intent along the lines of Mean Girls encouraging teenage girls away from the perilous path of cliques, bullying and online bitchery towards a more positive high school experience as poised, astute, gracious young women. Music by Rolfe Kent which includes a fantastic cover version of Bauhaus' “Bela Lugosi's Dead” performed by electro-rockers Chvrches.