February 12, 2014 by Sankha Wanigasekara
Hollywood isn’t done with the vampire genre just yet. Many would have thought, or hoped, that the Twilight Saga concluded the reign of the supernatural creatures at the box office, but we find ourselves staring at another vampire flick, setting itself up to be a successor of sorts. I was hesitant to attend a screening of “Vampire Academy” because it’s based on the first book of a collection that passes itself off as “young adult paranormal romance,” but since it was a free screening, I really couldn’t refuse. At the end of the movie however, I must say that it was surprisingly fun.
The movie is narrated from the point of view of Rosemarie “Rose” Hathaway (Zoey Deutch), a Dhampir (half-human, half-vampire), a race that is charged with the duty of saving the Moroi, the good vampires, from the Strigoi, the bad vampires. From this, it’s clear that the movie, or rather the books, tried to create a somewhat different vampire universe than the ones we’ve already been acquainted with on screen.
The story focuses on Rose, who finds herself protecting Lissa Dragomir, Moroi royalty, with whom she has a special, supernatural connection. They’ve been on the run since a car accident killed Lissa’s parents, choosing to flee the vampire school where they were enrolled in fear of danger, only to find themselves brought back to the institution two years later.
This institution is bascially Hogwarts for vampires (Moroi and Dhampir in this case). The Moroi learn to hone their magical powers while the Dhampir simply carry out physical training in order to better protect the Moroi. At times, it felt like the Dhampir were of a lower caste, since the Dhampir had no clear purpose other than to serve the Moroi. Most of the movie follows the two characters and their attempts to reintegrate into the school system after a prolonged hiatus, while navigating the dilemmas that plague most teenagers: Which guy should I go after? Should I date my Dhampir instructor?
This may make the movie sound like typical, silly teenage fodder, but it draws its humor from stereotypical adolescent behavior. Also, seeing vampires in an isolated learning environment can elicit quite a number of laughs. One example was when a Moroi asks Rose what a hashtag is, because the Dhampir had been out in the human world for two years. Sarah Hyland, who plays Haley Dunphy in “Modern Family,” complements the comedic tone, playing the goofy vampire with overlarge spectacles, still struggling to catch guys’ attention.
The plot direction was also noteworthy. I expected the film to have one-dimensional characters and plot, a simple good-vs.-bad take, but that wasn’t the case. Without a doubt, it’s obvious that Rose and Lissa will run into antagonists, but it’s a game of deduction to find out who the actual villain is.
The movie isn’t perfect. There’s the vast encyclopedia of new vampire terminology and lore that you have to pick up on the fly. It took me a while to get familiar with the three vampire clan names and traits. There’s more outlandish terminology piled on later that makes following the story all the more difficult. Then there is the question of loose ends. Several storylines were kept open for a later date, and the ending made it clear why. I didn’t know there were six books in the series and assumed that this was a stand-alone film. But it became evident in the finale that the studio is trying to create a long-running franchise. A sequel is definitely in the making, if the box office revenue proves to be outstanding.
Vampire Academy serves as the introduction for a new franchise, fleshing out the characters and creating its own unique version of vampire mythology, lore, history and politics. But unlike other entries in the genre, there’s no melodrama here. Everything is coated with a fine layer of humor, though most of it may be unintended. It’s about teenagers for crying out loud! “Vampire Academy” was released in theaters Feb. 7.