Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Vampire Academy – review

Director: Mark Waters

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Universally panned – it appeared – but still with some form of fan-base I walked into Vampire Academy cold, having never read the books it is based on, having zero expectation and not really too bothered about seeing it. I had read it was kind of a supernatural Mean Girls and I assume that is accurate (having never seen Mean Girls).

I was thus pleasantly surprised as I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it either, to be fair, but it had its moments and its confusing aspects, for the uninitiated, as well.

Zoey Deutch as Rose
The film starts with the Dragomir family, in a car. The focus of the film being daughter Lissa (Lucy Fry) and her friend/guardian Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) who also travels with them. A drunk driver careens across the road, causing a crash. Lissa crawls bleeding and clutches on to Rose’s hand… Two years on and the two girls are on the run from their school, St Vincent’s Academy. The two girls are psychically linked and Lissa was dreaming of the car crash that killed her family.

Lissa feeds
Lissa hasn’t fed and Rose offers her a vein (something we hear that is taboo), for Lissa is, of course, a vampire. In this case she is a type of peaceful vampire called Moroi and actually one of the royal bloodlines. Rose is a dhampir – a half vampire sworn to protect the Moroi. Rose spots a man outside and realises that the guardians from the Academy have found them. They try to escape and make a good fist of it, that is until Rose battles a particular guardian called Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) – who easily defeats her.

Rose awakens in a car and Dimitri notices the psychic link between the two girls. They reach the Academy but the gates are closed and the guardians are soon fighting Strigoï. If the Moroi are peaceful vampires, who do drink blood but don’t kill and can walk in sunlight (with minor irritation) then Strigoï are those Moroi who have killed, they become ruthless, psychopathic and burn in sunlight. They are also very physically powerful. The dhampir are trained to protect the Moroi from them and Rose (who failed to stay in the car as ordered) is nearly got but Dimitri saves her – staking the Strigoï with a silver stake.

Once back at the Academy the two girls are deemed as pariahs as the social structure has shifted – in a high school way – during their absence. It is clear that there was more to their disappearance than even the girls know (and that they were manipulated psychically to leave) and Lissa struggles with an unusual set of magic gifts that do not fall in the normal elemental range. She is also rather good at mind control and manipulation and uses this to get her social standing back (here we have the supernatural Mean Girls aspect) but whatever they were being protected from is still out there.

psi hound
There were interesting aspects – vampire fans taking a year out as willing donors and then mind-wiped of the experience, for instance, and the taboo of drinking from vampires and half vampires (which leads to the donor being known as a Blood Bitch). But there wasn’t enough explanation of the Christian aspects (the Moroi go to church and have a patron saint), there were creatures called psi hounds that were not really explained either (other than they are difficult to train and dangerous) and it just felt occasionally that there were gaps in the backgrounds that a fan of the books would know but the casual viewer does not.

The overarching story was interesting enough, I guess, but the identity of the villain was fairly obvious. However I felt that Zoey Deutch gave a fine and sassy performance that lifted parts of the film when they flagged a little. The appearance of a vampire queen (Joely Richardson) was a bit excruciating as the film veered towards Monster High level of childish bitchiness. There was a further story ready to arc in the background about an army of Strigoï that was more interesting to me than the main film but so very sparse.

Over all it wasn’t as bad as some teen orientated vampire films, perhaps there was a punch it needed that wasn’t quite there but it was ok. I can’t really tell if it was novel accurate or whether it did the book a disservice. 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


JaredMithrandir said...

I loved the Movie. But I'm right smack damn in the genre's fanbase, even though I didn't read the books.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

And I think loving it is absolutely valid - there was a lot of hate generated I think simply because of the high school aspect.

As you can tell I was more ambivalent but I did think Zoey Deutch was a revelation – she gave a fine performance

Dimis R said...

Wow, so I maybe should watch this...

Also, Taliensin, I wanted to ask you for some time. Since you have watched so many vampire movies and read so many books, is there any film or book out there about vampires without being romance or horror driven? Is there a story about the psychological changes as someone remains alive for centuries? Or a story that uses vampires as conduits to pinpoint humanity's mistakes (vampire art film perhaps)?

Thank you in advance.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Dimis, thanks for the comment. There certainly are some that aren't romance and horror driven. I'll give some thought and comment again later with a list for you

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Dimis. I’ve given some thought to your query and have come up with some films. Some/most of them will still have a degree of horror as they are about something that is classed as a supernatural monster but they do kind of fall into what you were talking about. I will also include some books within it.

Isle of the Dead is my favourite vampire film but doesn’t have a vampire in it – rather it shows the vampire as a focus for scapegoating.

There are some particularly arty films. La Belle Captive, which is less a vampire film and more has vampire themes which are played with and explored. Lisztomania is most definitely strange, but it is a Ken Russell film! South African flick Pure Blood could have been better and I found Anemia confusing. The S P Somtow Valentine books use the vampire as a Jungian archetype. Though it was critically panned, I really enjoyed Twixt and also love The Serpent’s Tale. I would highly recommend the Reflecting Skin and also Thirst, which explores religion.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Sometimes vampires are used to explore capitalism and corporate issues. This can be seen in such films as the Death of Alice Blue, Dracula Blows his Cool, Hanno Cambiato Faccia, Netherbeast Incorporated

Vampires as an allegory for sexual denial are seen in Eulogy for a vampire and as sexual frustration in I like Bats. In Psychopathia Sexualis (by Victorian standards) perversions are explored.

Inevitably the vampire as an allegory for addiction does occur. The film Habit is superb, non-supernatural blood addicts are looked at in the novel The World On Blood, I Pass for Human is probably a bit too horror focused but again is about addiction and vampires are used in an unusual way in the film Blood.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

There are plenty of “Coming of Age” type vampire stories. The novel The Travelling Vampire Show is perhaps a little more horror focused than some but is a great coming of age novel and the Japanese film The Lament of a Lamb is worth tracking down. Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is about sexual awakening but is fairly horror orientated whereas Valerie and her Week of Wonders plays more like a fairytale. I should also mention Morticia here as well and the Play for Today: Vampires. Getting my Brother Laid fits both coming of age and sexual exploration.

Vampires are sometimes depicted (without being real) in crime thrillers. La Mansión de la Niebla does this and has a Scooby-Doo rubber mask moment. Mark of the Vampire is similar and is a remake of London After Midnight. Marthas Garten is a mystery and Moon Child is a gang film but also has the vampire as a fixed point to watch the development of the characters over the years and having a vampire that watches the mistakes over years is at the heart of the book the Gilda Stories.

There are plenty of others but that should give you plenty to look at to start with. 


Dimis R said...

Wow, I am in your debt, Taliesin, you came up with quite the material! Thank you so much! I will start watching the movies you mentioned immediately!

I meant to ask you because 2 years ago we held a competition of sorts in high school. We were to come up with any story that could somehow bear any ideas.

I came up with a future vampire story in which the vampires were living in extra-closed communities out of their fear that the futuristic technology could easily expose them. They owned every medical and lab equipment firm and had the equipment bugged to lie if it ever scanned vampire saliva, blood, etc and notice them where the scan happened to cover the thing up. Any interaction with humans besides the absolute necessary to retain their financial position was forbidden. For their lack of, you could say, personal freedoms, they were financially compensated. The idea came to me when I've heard of a 2001 survey which stated that the 51% of the world population was willing to give up personal freedoms if they were financially compensated for it. The human world was exactly the opposite in the story, extremely free but financially stagnated. I made sure that the vampire origins was result of humanity's tendency to violence and destruction and there was a censored (by the vampire authority) book that indirectly talked about a free vampire utopia at the expense of humanity (vampire imperialism).

Anyway, after that story, which I mean to write again somewhere online, I have been wondering if there was something similar out there... I will start with Netherbeast Incorporated (since this is the only one I have access to) and we will talk again!

Thanks again! :)

bluebalistocat said...

Please support Frostbite, the sequel to Vampire Academy, on indiegogo. TY

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I'll leave the link for folks but - in my opinion - producers looking to crowdsource what is, essentially, a mainstream film is a bit cheeky - you get the punters money in cinema and DVD receipts and TV payments and have traditional routes for funding projects.

Crowdsourcing should really be there for the properly independent filmmakers