Film Reviews

Vampire Academy Gets Teen Girls Right (Unlike Twilight)

Goodbye, Facebook. Goodbye, iPhone. Hello, Saint Vladimir's," dropout Rose Hathaway (Zoey Deutch) groans when she and her best friend, Lissa (Lucy Fry), are dragged back to the titular school they ditched when they ran away to live normalish lives in Portland. Despite their year outside the gates, human culture remains a mystery: Lissa tried to blend in by hanging posters of Jimmy Carter, and, once again locked up under the watch of Headmistress Kirova (Olga Kurylenko), a hot dude in their class pulls Rose aside and asks, "What's a hashtag?"

At least there's more than enough distracting drama in school. While Lissa, a feathery, fragile blonde, and her fellow vampires study magic, their guardians like Rose take up fight training to protect their BFFs. Fast-talking Rose — a girl Friday in leggings — is the Kevin Costner to Lissa's Whitney Houston, a best-friend dynamic familiar to any girl who was ever half of an intense, almost overwhelming high school dyad. It's also cause for queen bitch Mia's (Sami Gayle) snickering whisper campaign that Rose must let Lissa feed on her. (And once you get a reputation as a blood whore, creeps assume you give platelets on the first date.)

Which brings us, of course, to the boys: the dangerous one (Dominic Sherwood), the jerk (Ashley Charles), the Duckie (Cameron Monaghan), and the big-biceped Russian (Danila Kozlovsky) who's great at gymnastics rings. There's some safe-for-tweens heat, including a party dress that gets ripped off and thrown in a fire. What's more exciting is that these scenes are sparked by unapologetic female-driven lust. Sure, that scares dads. But it's better for our daughters than the hypnotized ideal that girls are meant to stay on the sidelines and date whichever boy wins the day.

This is all silly stuff, but consider this: Director Mark Waters helmed Mean Girls, and screenwriter Daniel Waters penned Heathers. People dismiss films about teen girls, as though that audience's agonies and fears and passions are forever lesser than those of a grown man in tights. But the Waters brothers' work can't be tossed aside. Like their earlier comedies, Vampire Academy nimbly balances teen paranoias with real threats (here, the deadly Strigoi clan of bloodsuckers who want to chew up the school). And it knows that friendship — not romance — is a 17-year-old girl's true obsession. Best friendship can be all-consuming, even dangerous. It can explode. But after the debris settles, it'll still rank first.

It's no wonder the Waterses work double time to distance themselves from wan Bella and her were-vamp love triangle, even dismissing the volunteer human feeders serving their own wrists in the school cafeteria as chubby divorcées who write Twilight slash fiction. Like the Stephenie Meyer series, Vampire Academy is based on a series of books. Alas, the Weinsteins, who own the rights, aren't acting like they believe in the franchise: They forbade advanced press screenings and even the standard midnight Thursday show, which is a pity. For smart, strong girls and the guys who like them, Vampire Academy will hit a vein.

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Amy Nicholson was chief film critic at LA Weekly from 2013 to 2016. Her work also appeared in the other Voice Media Group publications – DenverWestword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press, Dallas Observer and OC Weekly – and in VMG’s film partner, the Village Voice.

Nicholson’s criticism was recognized by the Los Angeles Press Club and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. Her first book, Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor, was published in 2014 by Cahiers du Cinema.