Late in the supernatural teen comedy Vampire Academy, one of the gossip girls at St. Vladimir’s (Sami Gayle) tries to start a fight with our heroine Rose (Zoey Deutch) at a school dance. After trying to walk away, Rose finally decks her, then turns to her fellow vampires and asks, “Everybody saw that I tried to take the high road there?” Bitchy high-school girls are the milieu of both director Mark Waters (Mean Girls) and his brother and screenwriter Daniel Waters (Heathers), which would seem to make them ideal choices to adapt Richelle Mead’s novel about surviving the perils of adolescence when you’re being hunted down by the undead. Unfortunately, this movie only demonstrates why so few filmmakers try to mash up vampire movies and high-school comedies: It’s really, really difficult.
Rose is bodyguard and best friend to Lissa (Lucy Fry), a member of vampire royalty, and they’ve both been forcibly returned to their school in the Montana countryside after fleeing the place for their safety and living on the run for a year. During that time, the half-human Rose kept Lissa alive by allowing her to feed on her blood. Nobody knows this, but nevertheless there’s plenty of slut-shaming (“Blood whore!”) and speculation about their relationship from their fellow students awaiting their return.
Yeah, about that relationship: Of all the recent YA novels adapted for film, Mead’s is easily the most homoerotic. For form’s sake, Rose and Lissa are both shown dating boys, but let’s face it: These girls are far more into each other than they are into the opposite sex. The Waterses sadly don’t do anything with this potentially juicy detail, nor is there enough chemistry between the lead actresses to convey that. More importantly, the filmmakers make incomprehensible hash out of their characters’ backstories and Mead’s universe of three different kinds of vampires. (The evil ones, which kill both people and other vampires, are threats lurking outside the school gates.) Mark Waters is far more comfortable with comedy than he is with the action sequences here, and it’s no wonder that the tone of this piece is all over the place. The actors are mostly clueless about how to play this material, with the exception of Deutch (the daughter of actress Lea Thompson), a diminutive presence who’s equally comfortable firing off snappy one-liners and breaking out martial-arts moves. Her sarcasm is bracing in a film that might otherwise droop.
Still, the only bit of Vampire Academy’s story that resonates is a late development that hinges on a chatty wannabe nerd (Sarah Hyland from TV’s Modern Family). The resulting climax is well played, but it’s more than this slapdash movie deserves. Now if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to dig out my DVD set of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV show that mined this same territory far more effectively.
Starring Zoey Deutch and Lucy Fry. Directed by Mark Waters. Written by Daniel Waters, based on Richelle Mead’s novel. Rated PG-13.