MRR Review: "Vampire Academy"

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company

Rating: PG-13
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Directed by: Mark Waters
Genre: Action / Comedy / Fantasy

Cinematic portrayals of vampires in films like "Vampire Academy" represent far more complex tales than those presented when Bela Lugosi played the bloodthirsty Count Dracula in the 1930s. "Vampire Academy" is the story of a Dhampir named Rose Hathaway. A Dhampir is a being that is half-human and half-vampire. Rose is charged with protecting the Moroi, a type of peaceful and mortal vampire that lives quietly and discretely among the human population. She must protect them from the more stereotypical vampires, the immortal and bloodthirsty Strigoi.

"Vampire Academy" is based on the first book in a series of six young adult novels, written by Richelle Mead. The screenplay, by Daniel Waters, stays relatively true to the original tale. Indeed, fans of the novels are bound to find themselves pleased with the way the story proceeds and characters develop on the big screen.

Waters, familiar with the genre having written the screenplays for "Batman Returns," "Heathers" and "Demolition Man," delivers in "Vampire Academy" with compelling, taught dialog that conveys the inner sense of the characters. He effectively manages a task that frustrates more than a few other screenwriters. He takes a seemingly unbelievable situation and renders it not only plausible but an occurrence moviegoer might expect to see outside the multiplex.

"Vampire Academy" comes together under the experienced directorial hand of Mark Waters. Waters maintains a strong reputation in the Hollywood community. His credits include a trio of popular and well-received movies: "Mean Girls," "Freaky Friday" and "Almost Heaven." "Vampire Academy" is something of a blend of the high school angst genre with that of the supernatural niche, taking elements from his prior silver screen efforts.

Detail is important to Waters, both in regard to scene setting and character development. He effectively utilizes both elements to move the plot forward in a manner that engages the audience. Where some directors overkill when it comes to details, Waters has an eye and a focus that identifies the specifics that enhance rather than drag down the overall progress of the piece.

Zoey Deutch, the daughter of actress Lea Thompson, enlivens the screen in "Vampire Academy" as Rose Hathaway. In this film, Deutch's character is something of an action hero in her defense of the "nice vampires," somewhat of a take-off on the better-known Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Deutch must intertwine the character element with the fact that despite Rose Hathaway's significant charge, she is still a young person, with all the attendant desires and problems.

Although she is provided with both a solid script and expert direction in the film, in the end it is the ability of Deutch to address effectively the complex nature of her character that satisfies a moviegoer. She conveys the essence of the typical "girl next door," who happens to face down bloodthirsty vampires, with a simultaneous vulnerability and fortitude that more experienced actors find a challenge to muster, let alone master.

Lucy Fry portrays Lissa Dragomir, the Moroi vampire Rose Hathaway is called upon to protect from the vampires with blood lust. Fairly new to feature films, Fry turns in a capable performance, reminiscent of some of the supporting characters in other movies set in high schools. She manages a poignant element to her role as a vampire, but a good one.

Gabriel Byrne is cast as Victor Dashkov in "Vampire Academy." He kidnaps Lissa Dragomir in an attempt to take advantage of the young woman's powers. He is placed in direct opposition to Rose Hathaway, the guardian. Byrne generally plays his character in a somber as well as sinister fashion, that simmers rather than explodes. This portrayal renders the character a bit more diabolical than might otherwise by the case.

Olga Kurylenko is in the role of the academy's head mistress. She adds another solid presence to the film. An actor from Ukraine, her presence on the screen is both steely and sharp. She exudes a sense of confidence and command that marshals the students in her care and leaves the audience with the understanding that, under her watch, good truly does finally prevail over evil.

With five other novels in the book series, and with a solid presentation in this first filmed version from that collection, moviegoers reasonably conclude that "Vampire Academy" is the foundation of yet another film franchise involving the supernatural. The overall not particularly well-known cast, under the guidance of such an experienced director, very well may become household names, at least among the teen crowd, in the not too distant future.

Rating: 3 out of 5