It Ain't Whedon, But It'll Do: 'Vampire Academy' Review
Well shit, another movie about teenaged vampires. Must be Friday.
Vampires are so overdone at this point that as Genevieve pointed out, half the time the stories don’t have the slightest requirement that the characters actually be vampires. The contagion has spread beyond any actual connection to the mythology. I’m all for mythologies evolving and expanding (I mean has anyone really identified with the vampire myth over the last century because as a metaphor for syphilis?), but there’s a difference between that and lazily stapling on the known cliché to avoid exercising originality in any form.
All that said, Vampire Academy is a very entertaining film. It openly takes potshots at Twilight, so it’s got that going for it. And it manages to shove in about half a season of television plot twists into a smooth two hours, so it doesn’t lack for ambition.
So you’ve got three different factions in the film. I won’t belabor them by looking up the spellings when you could just read the books if you really cared. There are the good vampires, the bad vampires, and the half-vampires. The good vampires don’t kill, but drink from willing hosts in order to live. They also have various magics of the elemental variety: fire, air, earth, and water. They become bad vampires if they ever kill someone. And not just in the sense of a moral label, in the sense of becoming nearly unkillable, and becoming pure psychotic killers. There’s a wonderful sad darkness layered in here, in that those who become evil choose it, because it’s a way of letting go of all the complexity and the mental agony that those with the most powerful of their magics endure. And the half-vampires are the bodyguard sorts, getting the strength but not the magic of their vampire parent, and no weakness to sunlight and such.
It’s a funny film, with a lot of heart to it, and what feels like a really well developed world that would be interesting to learn more about. And there is a lot of darkness undergirding the story, with blood as life, and the notion of magic only coming with a price. Then there’s a lot of high school type of drama that I really don’t care much about, but it takes itself seriously about such things instead of playing it as a low-rent Mean Girls. In short, it’s a great extra-long pilot for a CW show, that will never get made because they already have too many vampire teenager shows on the schedule.
Zoe Deutch stars as Rose, a half-vampire who kicks all sorts of ass. She is walking liquid snark, and a continuous delight on screen. Ever single scene she is in is elevated by a cutting charm that deserves being in many more scenes in many more movies. She has comedic timing, vicious dryness, and a goofy dorkiness that is completely endearing. I’m not going to lie, it doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous, has physically impossible legs, and wears a miniskirt with less cloth than a napkin for two-thirds of the movie. In short, Joss Whedon should have some people talk to her people and make something magical happen since the six dollars Vampire Academy makes at the box office won’t be enough to get a sequel.
Speaking of Whedon, he had this wonderful quote that I can’t find at the moment that came out when he was talking about Firefly and Buffy, in which he talked about irritation with people talking about his work as not being ‘serious’. That because it was often hilarious it could not at the same time be serious. Most people are confused and think serious when what they really mean is somber.
This is a serious movie in that its characters take the world they live in seriously, its dangers real, their lives real. It is not campy B-movie fare because it inhabits itself with characters who act like people who believe they are the protagonist, rather than objects to be moved around for comedic effect. But it’s definitely not a somber one.
It reminds me of a lot of Whedon’s television work, in that exact way that it simultaneously takes itself seriously and contains self-aware characters full of snark and life. It’s a sweet spot of entertainment that is wonderful fun, but is loathed and hammered by most critics, who just seem baffled by it, as if it’s an alien genre they’ve never experienced. Sure, Whedon ended up king of the world because of Avengers, but remember the long dark years before that, when he was just a failed television writer with a string of canceled cult hits?
Is it a great movie? God I hate that question. Oh, so it’s a guilty pleasure? Oh I hate that term even more. I’m never embarrassed by my pleasures, not any more than Hiddleston. That’s the act of juvenile minds too frightened of what others think to defend what they enjoy. I hate that there’s supposed to be embarrassment at a film being enjoyable for its own sake. This movie is fun. You should watch it. If not for ten bucks at the theater, then at least on Netflix in six months while you tip back a few.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.