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In defence of Vampire Academy

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There’s no dancing around the issue: Vampire Academy flopped at the US box office (taking only $3.9m in its opening weekend) and has been universally panned by critics (it’s currently sitting at 11% on Rotten Tomatoes). Yet the film I watched couldn’t have been more different from everything I had heard. Disclaimer: I am a fan of the best-selling series of novels by Richelle Mead that the first film is based off. I was also fairly skeptical of the talent involved, so my anticipation… was mixed. Walking out of the cinema though, what I felt most was confused. Vampire Academy was a really, really good time. It was funny, it was witty, it was action-packed and it was extremely loyal to the books. Had I seen a different film to everyone else? Was my perception of it skewered so dramatically? I don’t think so. It wasn’t even close to the level of badness projected from the cinematic abortion that was The Mortal Instruments. Hence I’m ready to go into bat for this film because – for whatever reason – it’s getting pounded in a Pulp Fiction basement kinda way. In a world where we have four fucking Transformers films and a Taken sequel, I think collectively we should all get off Vampire Academy’s dick. And here’s why:

  • This is not a new take on vampires. And THAT IS OKAY. There are good vampires, there are bad vampires, and there could be flying bloody sloths for all the difference it makes. Ya, the ‘V’ word is used in the film’s title but this is as much a film about vampires as Byzantium is. Vampire Academy is a female led action film and frankly we do not have enough of those.
  • Entrails. Blood graffiti. Mangled corpses. The flick didn’t sacrifice the horror elements from the books to be more accessible to a younger audience, like, say The Hunger Games.
  • Yes, there are multiple romances going on but the central love story is between Lissa and Rose: two young women who fight for their friendship and each other.
  • If the Twilight franchise has taught us anything, it’s that a good soundtrack does not a good movie maketh BUT when Vampire Academy opened with the sickest femme anthem of the past decade – M.I.A’s Bad Girls – I literally leaned forward in my seat and screeched. Fuck. Yes. Lady. BAMF music. Add to that some moody, charismatic tunes from Charli XCX, Gin Wigmore and Chrvches and you’ve brought a tangible ‘cool’ factor to the proceedings.
  • The dialogue. One of the most attractive and enjoyable things about the Vampire Academy series – and most books Richelle Mead writes – is the biting (pun intended) banter and downright sassy one-liners. Plucking a few straight from the pages of the novel, there were also some LOL-worthy additions from the Waters Bros. – ‘Why can’t you be a normal teenage girl that dreams about naked boys riding unicorns?’ – including a cutting remark about the process of turning into a vampire being bloodier than losing your virginity.
  • The central character’s older love interest looks hella old. It’s so rare they cast actors that look – and are – a decade apart especially when most of the starlets playing teenagers in Hollywood films are actually in their 20s. Zoey Deutch as Rose Hathaway was 18 during filming and her main man, Danila Kozlovsky, was 28. He looks old as fuck. Technical term.
  • It’s not a bullshit celibacy metaphor, but rather features a cast full of sexually liberated young females. There’s women who have no-strings attached sex, there’s women who use it as a weapon, and there’s women who use it to express love. Such a multi-faceted and realistic representation is rarely represented on the big screen.
  • It doesn’t flirt around the issues, it deals with some serious shit. I’m talkin’ suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, depression and grief. Essentially the heavy issues are used to trivialise the stereotypical catty high school experience the girls’ are reluctantly thrown back into.
  • The world is complex. It’s not vampires Vs werewolves or robots Vs monsters. There is a detailed hierarchy of vampiric political systems, not to mention the supernatural food chain and the inner structure of the royal system.
  • Bonus points for the use of the phrase ‘slut shaming’.
  • It balances grave danger with levity in the way Buffy The Vampire Slayer did so well. Death followed by pun. Immense peril backed up with a throwaway one-line. It’s not a mix that’s easy to get right.
  • One of the best parts? Like, the very, very best part? The final scene in the film is a dramatic profession of love between two characters and just when the moment arrives for them to kiss – for the camera to circle them as they begin full-on macking with spittle and tongue galore – the woman takes advantage of the moment and flips the man on to his back in a display of her physical prowess.

Just to prove that I’m not completely irrational and biased, I can see the movie has its flaws. Here are Vampire Academy’s biggest crimes:

  • Nothing says ‘gross waste of budget allocation’ than adding completely unnecessary CGI pullback shots of vampire Hogwarts or The Mummy-quality animated wolves.
  • Olga Kurylenko, who seems confused as to whether she’s supposed to be in a Diet Coke commercial or playing a villain.
  • A weird monologue at the film’s conclusion where Lissa addresses the school about ‘why can’t we all just get along, guys’. So earnest the viewer could be forgiven for thinking it was ironic. It should have ended with a student screaming ‘SHE DOESN’T EVEN GO HERE!’
  • The fight choreography looks like it needs a few more run-throughs. It would have been fine to view in the special features, but it’s not good enough to have stilted, slow moves appear in the finished product. This is 2014.
  • The unnecessary use of titles to explain the different types of vampires within the world. If there’s a mofo manipulating water like an Avatar, then we don’t need the a cute little air symbol graphic displayed on screen. We. Get. It.
  • Claire Foy as a poor man’s Helena Bonham Carter.
  • Show us, don’t tell us. A girl’s entire family was wiped out in a car accident? Show us the bloody wreckage, fine, but don’t continue to repeat over and over again that ‘Oh hey, where you just woken up from your slumber because you had a nightmare about your parents being killed in that car crash on Wednesday, December 14 which inadvertently led to us running away from school even though *intake of breath* you the only remaining member of your family line and a potential heir to the vampire throne?’

Consensus:

Like most films adapted from a best-selling YA novel, it has its faults and most of them still from trying to balance the young with the adult. For the most part though, it succeeds. Action-packed and sexy, Vampire Academy manages to balance hilarity with danger as it tells the love story between two best friends who will do anything to protect each other and their friendship. Get ‘em gurrrl.

[rating=3] a half stars

Maria Lewis – follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

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