Vampire Academy's trailer makes it look like a mash-up of Twilight and Harry Potter. And it is. But the movie's bloodthirsty headmaster also lobs in Gossip Girl and, weirdly, Juno.
There are good vampires. There are bad vampires. And then there are half-vampires whose job it is to protect the good ones from the bad ones.
That's what Rose Hathaway is, a dhampir, half human, half vampire-guardian-in-training whose destiny it is to protect the "righteous" vampires (a mortal race known as the Moroi) from the wicked strain (an immortal race called Strigoi). It's complicated, yes, but not nearly so much as the Byzantine strands of sensual teenage politics woven together at St. Vladimir's Academy—otherwise known as Vampire Academy.
The 19th-century walls of St. Vladimir's (nestled away somewhere in Montana) house two groups of high school students: Moroi adolescents from 12 vampire families scattered across the globe and dhampir novices training to serve and protect them. While the guardian novices devote themselves to learning hand-to-hand combat skills (like how to ram a silver stake through a Strigoi's heart), the Moroi students strive to discover which of four elemental kinds of magic they can manipulate (air, fire, water and earth).
Rose, it turns out, has bonded with the Moroi princess Lissa Dragomir, who's likely next in line for the Moroi throne. That means, among other things, that Rose can telepathically merge with Lissa's consciousness (seeing, hearing and feeling).
But all of that is still just a prelude to what happens when Rose and Lissa are forcibly returned to St. Vladimir's after running away for a year. Neither is thrilled to be back in the middle of a campus full of catty enemies and spurned would-be suitors.
Indeed, mean-girl name-calling and romantic intrigue quickly amp up when bloodstained messages at church (yes, these vampires go to church) and in Lissa's dorm room command her to leave again. Then animals start turning up dead, delivering an ever more chilling message: Someone really doesn't like Lissa.
Is it an inside job? Or are the Strigoi behind the bloody threats?
Spunky, sassy, world-wise Rose is determined to find out … even as she finds herself falling for her much older mentor, a hunky Russian named Dimitri Belikov. (Because this isn't the kind of film that can resist yet one more slinky twist.)
The positive message in Vampire Academy is the sense of single-minded purpose that drives the dhampirs. Their calling is to protect the Moroi from lurking Strigoi, giving their lives if necessary. Several do exactly that to protect Lissa (and, secondarily, Rose) when they're ambushed. Rose is especially protective of Lissa, and would do anything to save her.
A conflict of interest comes as Rose and Dimitri begin to fall for each other. But he ultimately tells her they cannot become romantically involved because a) he's too old, and b) it would divide his loyalty between her and the Moroi he's sworn to protect. (And they at least try to stick to their guns when it comes to staying apart.)
Lissa is more fragile and flighty than Rose. But she does have a similarly deep core of loyalty. Also, using her healing powers, she repeatedly erases the ill effects of others' nasty wounds, and even compassionately heals a bird. She delivers a speech to her classmates extolling kindness and dignity, challenging them to let go of the petty, selfish behaviors many have exhibited.
Lissa, it turns out, is a one special Moroi. Whereas most of the good vampires manifest one elemental magical power, Lissa has all of them. And beyond her ability to heal, she can compel others to do her bidding—a power she uses both thoughtfully and selfishly.
We eventually find out that only two other Moroi have ever possessed that latter power, a woman named Ms. Karp—who was eventually driven mad by it—and the very first Moroi, St. Vladimir. As the plot unfolds, we learn that the difference between being driven insane by such power and managing to master it is having a faithful guardian. Vladimir had one, Ms. Karp didn't. Which brings us to Rose who, as mentioned, has developed a deep telepathic link with Lissa.
The Moroi and their guardians attend church services at school regularly, wherein a priest-like figure delivers vaguely Christian-sounding sermons. At one point the man says, "Following God can be difficult." Someone else proclaims, "God can be cruel." And one of Rose's friends tells her, "Even a church can't protect you from a lightning bolt. Passing reference is made to "Satan's darkness." (All of which brings a great deal of spiritual muddiness to the whole supernatural hodgepodge we experience here.)
Sexual contact is repeatedly labeled "fornication." Yet it's the rules about whose blood can be drunk that are truly treated like sexual mores. Rose makes out with a male Moroi who tries repeatedly to bite her neck, prompting her to keep pushing him away—acting as if he's trying to go too far sexually. Indeed, she seems more willing to give herself sexually to him than to let him suck her blood. Thus, one of Rose's jealous male friends asks if she and the other vampire were "hooking up or fanging up." Rose is repeatedly dubbed a "blood whore," and we hear a joking comment about her making "amateur blood-whore porn."
Rose and Lissa's relationship is not sexual, but they're repeatedly ribbed as if they were lesbian lovers. And Rose does ask Lissa why she never thinks about "hot naked guys on unicorns." We hear about Rose's "a‑‑" and "boobies," losing your virginity, a sexual threesome, sex slaves, being seen naked, wet dreams, sex acts and getting herpes. It's stated that one girl had sex with several guys in order to earn their cooperation in a scheme.
Various couples kiss. Rose and Dimitri quickly disrobe in his bedroom. The camera shows her in her bra and underwear and him in briefs as they paw and kiss on a bed. When Dimitri realizes they're under a spell and removes a charmed necklace from Rose's neck, they both act embarrassed … but later admit their mutual attraction.
Rose and other characters frequently wear outfits that reveal a lot of cleavage. Lissa is seen in a camisole in bed.
Lissa's parents and brother are killed in a collision with a drunk driver, and we see their bloodied bodies in the wreckage. Hand-to-hand battle scenes boast savage kicks, punches and body slams. An ambush by Strigoi on Lissa, Rose, Dimitri and other guardians results in multiple casualties. We see one Strigoi getting staked. A similarly fierce struggle takes place later when one of Rose's friends is turned into a Strigoi and attacks her former comrades. Rose and Dimitri eventually manage to stake the ravenous, blood-covered adolescent in the heart and kill her. A flashback shows the girl's first bloodied feeding victim.
Lissa occasionally dines on Rose's blood to replenish her energy, biting into her shoulder. (There seem to be no ill effects to Rose, but its taboo for a Moroi to drink the blood of his or her guardian.) The good vampires feed on the blood of willing humans who have an affinity for vampire culture. In a hospital-like setting that mimics a blood drive, humans' wrists are bitten. (A joke is made that one woman "giving blood" is a recently divorced writer of Twilight fan-fiction who just needed some "me time" among the vampires.)
Lissa is tortured by a vampire who blows wind forcibly across her face and into her ear. She compels an assailant to jump out a second story window, killing him. Rose uses what looks to be vodka to turn a motorcycle's gas tank into a Molotov cocktail. She hits a female student in the face. A friend of Rose's magically sets somebody on fire. We hear someone's leg breaking. We see and hear someone's neck being broken. People are stabbed and shot with guns.
A crow flies into a statue and twitches, near death. Two demon-like dogs are set on fire. A fox is mangled and strung up in public. Someone kills and mutilates Lissa's pet cat, then puts it in her backpack.
Lissa's use of her powers somewhat inexplicably correlates with bloody cuts on her arm (which heal quickly).
Crude or Profane Language
Rose exclaims "mother—" but stops short of the word's obviously obscene conclusion. "A‑‑" is said 10 or so times; "b‑‑ch" and "d‑‑n" three or four times each; "d‑‑k," "p‑‑‑," "douche bag" and "h‑‑‑" one or two times. There are a half-dozen misuses of God's name.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Vampires drink blood from wine glasses.
Other Negative Elements
Lissa asks Rose if she's ever telepathically watched her go to the bathroom. One of Rose's friends licks a bloody message left for Lissa on a wall—determining that the blood came from more than one person.
A little bit Twilight, a little bit Harry Potter, a little bit Gossip Girl, a little bit Juno. That's the fastest way to sum up the latest paranormal young adult fiction franchise to graduate from the page to the big screen.
Like Twilight, author Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy features a contextually complicated romance (Rose and Dimitri), as well as good and bad vampires (though none of them sparkle).
Like Harry Potter, much of the film's action involves magic, the threat of violence from the outside and a scholastic setting that bears more than passing resemblance to Hogwarts.
Like the CW's finally defunct Gossip Girl, teens often quip breezily about (and seemingly engage in, we hear) all manner of casual sexual activity.
And like Juno, at the heart of it all is a sassily confident heroine who loves cracking wise about as much as she loves anything else. (At one point, Rose hurls this Juno-worthy zinger at a guy: "Lissa used to like Hot Topic too, and then she turned 12.")
If all of those amusements offer significant content problems for parents and would-be young fans to grapple with—and they do—would it be cheating to end this review by skipping over all the self-sacrifice and solidarity stuff and merely saying that Vampire Academy has high hurdles too? And that none of them are just academic?