Wow! Let’s just get everything out on the table right now. This movie doesn’t “suck” at entertaining. Vampire Academy is a fun movie, and a great start to a hopeful franchise! The writing was fantastic, the actors were tip top, but the movie felt very rushed at parts. If you’ve read Richelle Mead’s series, you know that the first book is an onslaught of information, and the movie felt even more of an invasion with so many facts one right after the next. My ONLY problem with the movie was the timing, yet at the same time it left me wanting more.
I had the fortunate chance to speak with Daniel Waters, the screenwriter of the film. He planned to have everything flow easy, with transition scenes, thorough explanations about the different types of vampires, and especially longer cuts of the comedic sequences. However, as a writer you never have the final say. I could tell the studio cut out several scenes that might have been necessary to slow the movie down. Some of the jokes weren’t set up correctly, and the film would skip to a new scene without a transition of how the characters got there. I found myself not being able to laugh at the hilarious lines of dialogue because I would miss what was said next. It’s really such a shame the movie couldn’t breathe.
General audiences can only handle so much, especially with the recent less than stellar Young Adult adaptations, and two hours seem a little long on paper. I understand why Weinstein Company chipped away at the movie, so if it weren’t for some of the confusion and fast pace, this film would have been perfect. Yes, the timing was a problem, but the rest of the movie was a blast. If there is one thing I want to come across in this review, it’s that I have never had more faith for the future of a franchise than I have for Vampire Academy.
As Page to Premiere, we specialize in adaptations. From the very beginning of the optioning process, we all had our doubts about Vampire Academy. No one knew where this book series came from, and the title was so off putting. The books revolve around two girls already born into a world where three different types of vampires exist. Rose Hathaway, played by Zoey Deutch, is a dhampir; a half-vampire mortal with super strength whose life’s ambition and career is to protect her royal Moroi – a mortal vampire who yields magic – best friend, Lissa Dragomir (Lucy Fry). The two girls are thrown back into their academy after a year of being MIA, and things start to get a little weird around the academy. It’s a story about friendship first and foremost, and a little romance thrown in here and there, with a lot of bad ass action, high school drama, and hilarious one liners from our saucy protagonist, Rose. During the filming process, the staff members who hadn’t read the books were intrigued. I was one of those staff members, and I fell in love with Vampire Academy. As a lover of the series, I can assure the fans this movie was brilliant. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a pretty faithful adaptation. I’ve seen people for months worried about the comedy in the film, complaining that the characters looked vapid and cheesy. If it weren’t for the comedic bits here and there, the movie would crash and burn. The humor is what sets this film apart from the rest.
Spoilers ahead… come back to this review after you’ve seen the movie. It’s very important to support the film this weekend if you want a sequel. You won’t regret it!
The movie opens with a familiar catchy song from the band M.I.A that had me singing along with the two main characters, Rose (Zoey Deutch) and Lissa (Lucy Fry). I wasn’t expecting the flashback scene where Lissa’s family dies in a car crash right off the bat, or the shock I felt after my giddiness of the opening song. This scene is important to setting up the two girls relationship, and show the beginnings of what will transpire in the story. The flashback was definitely a gripping opening scene.
We then go back to the present with Rose waking up from a nightmare and pounding the wall for Lissa, audiences are immediately thrown into the beginning sequence of just pure information. Rose goes to wake up Lissa, and we learn that the opening scene was Lissa’s dream, and this is the first time we experience the two girl’s special bond. Then begins what felt like a conversation constructed just for the purpose of catching the audience up to speed with the world the girls are used to. I had a real problem with this scene. Rose and Lissa’s first conversation was crucial, but it was rough and forced. Mark Waters (director) has said in past interviews that Vampire Academy sets itself apart because we don’t follow a wide eyed innocent heroine whose thrown into a world she’s experiencing for the first time. Waters is correct, but because the characters have lived in their supernatural world their entire lives, the amount of explanation needed in the beginning of the film had to be said in an organic way. Which unfortunately was not executed in that manner.
Zoey Deutch as Rosemarie Hathaway has to be one of the most perfect casting choices in this film. Her portrayal of the kickass guardian is spot on. Deutch delivers each hilarious line with precision and a firm sense of confidence. Her dedication to kicking butt had me roaring Team Female, and I felt satisfied that one of literature’s favorite Young Adult heroines was in good hands. However, I did not feel the same way about Lucy Fry as Lissa Dragomir. I still can’t put my finger on it after one showing. I felt Lucy, in my personal opinion, took Lissa and made her more catty and spicy when Lissa needed to be a bit of a pushover and under stated to level out Rose. I wasn’t wowed by her performance, but then again I wasn’t ever wowed by Princess Vasilissa Dragomir until the last book.
The film makers impressed me with how they handled Rose’s Shadow Kissed abilities. You find out in the movie that Lissa ended up bringing Rose back from the brink of death because of her Spirit magic abilities. During the trailers, I was disappointed by the color Rose’s eyes turned when she went into Lissa’s head. It seems that every Young Adult book, one of the characters has the very obscure gold eyes. I wished they had maybe glassed over her eyes, but it still worked. The way Rose would say, “not this again,” made a quick breath, and opened her eyes wide was just the way I pictured it in the books. I loved how we would go into “Lissa vision” with the POV camera shot, and Rose would chime in with her hilarious comments. The bond was definitely a tricky technical thing to transition from book to movie, but they conquered it.
The first fight sequence in the film introduces us to the Russian god/dhampir guardian known as Dimitri Belikov played by a real Russian actor, Danila Kozlovsky. I had not one doubt about this casting choice, unlike so many others, and I’m so happy Danila did not disappoint me. He IS Dimitri Belikov. There were a couple spots where I couldn’t understand his dialogue due to his accent, but I’d rather have some confusion than dubbing. It’s so refreshing to see an adult in a movie about the trials and tribulations of high school with a supernatural twist, and Kozlovsky’s presence on screen is sure to ground the viewers. When Dimitri struts onto the scene wearing his famous duster, after Rose demolishes the guardian army (dhampirs), he speaks the words, “Princess Vasilisa Dragomir. My name is Dimitri Belikov. I have come to take you back to St. Vladimir’s Academy.” It was a bit cheesy, but I loved his entrance, and movie is already laughing at itself. Danila nailed the role, he was dark and brooding, such a gentleman, and made me believe Dimitri had actually come to life.
I was most blown away by the chemistry between Deutch and Kozlovsky. When the two actors ever had scenes together, I was captivated. I hope people who haven’t read the books will experience the magic that is Romitri. My only wish was to have more of the guardian training scenes which were so prevalent in the book. There was never any explanation in the movie as to why Rose was training privately with her instructor. Just another scene cut out. I also loved the surprise tackles Rose would try on Dimitri added throughout the movie. I won’t lie, I actually fangirled when Dimitri called Rose by her Russian nickname, Roza. In all, Zoey Deutch and Danila Kozlovsky were an all around perfect casting choice.
When the girls show up back at school we are met with the rest of the actors rounding out the cast. Dominic Sherwood plays Christian Ozera, the loner and Moroi royal who has a thing for Lissa. I couldn’t be more happy with who they chose for Christian. Dominic was a no-name model, and surprised me with his acting abilities. He wasn’t perfect, but I can’t wait to see him grow in the future of this franchise. At the academy we also meet Natalie Dashkov (Sarah Hyland), cousin to Lissa Dragomir because of the royal blood line, and the nerdy picked on girl. We all knew Hyland was going to hit this role out of the ball park, and she did just that. Especially at the very end when (spoilers) she turns into a Strigoi (evil vampire). The make-up they did on Hyland was just how I pictured her. Even though Natalie was the evil villain at the end, Mia Rinaldi (Sami Gayle) was the evil mean girl out for blood. I remember in the books just hating Mia with a passion, but Mia in the movie had no effect on me. I hate to say it, but Sami Gayle did not bring the heat in this film. It might have been due to scenes getting cut, because her story line and role in the movie was confusing and small. Mia definitely had a few laughs in the film, but I felt most frustrated with the way they twisted her into the movie. Another role I felt frustrated with was Cameron Monaghan’s Mason Ashford. I almost forgot about him, that’s how small his part is in the movie. From what we got of Cameron, I know he will make Frostbite Mason’s movie.
The Strigoi. I wanted an entire section dedicated to this race of vampire. I was very skeptical about their involvement in the movie from what I saw of the trailers. Was I wrong. The added sequence definitely helped move the movie along. Strigoi, for the non book readers, are the evil vampires who used to be Moroi, but killed a human in the act of feeding. They are deadly, immortal, and most importantly do not appear in the first book. Daniel Waters added a Strigoi attack on the caravan Dimitri was heading up to bring the girls back to school. I loved the fight sequence, we got to see the guardians in action, Rose’s vulnerability, and Dimitri’s protective side. The only thing I did not like about the added Strigoi was the very last scene with Ms. Karp, who was a Spirit user like Lissa and turned herself into a Strigoi to escape the the effects of Spirit. The scene shows a red eyed Ms. Karp leading an army of Strigoi to the school. This was the only part that strayed from the book, and had me scratching my head at the added plot twist.
There is so much more I could elaborate on, but that will have to wait for my video review on my YouTube Channel. If you got anything from this review it’s that I want you to see Vampire Academy in theaters now! Fill those seats so Frostbite will be green lighted, and we’ll see all six books come to life on the big screen. As I said before, the Waters brothers know what they are doing, and the next movie is going to be even better, and hopefully Weinstein Company will take my advice and not cut so much out of the film. Let’s make this movie our bitch!