Vampire Academy

By Di Golding

Mailed on February 10, 2014

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Dear Daniel Waters

Dear Daniel,

A film with the title 'Vampire Academy' is a license to print money. The only other two words likely to get the core demographic this excited might be 'Free Uggs'. You could have written this script on a cocktail napkin, drunk, and it still would have put Lulu Lemon-clad butts in the seats. Unfortunately, you did something even worse. You actually tried to write a vampire movie that didn't suck--and you failed.

It's even more disappointing given the film's pedigree, which I stupidly allowed to get my hopes up. Sadder still is that this movie will probably gross more than ten times the GDP of Burundi, which might lead you to confuse popularity with quality.

The director - your brother Mark - has helmed two of the better teen-targeted films of the 2000s. Freaky Friday and Mean Girls were both notable for transcending their target demo. Maybe if you hadn't written one of the sharpest, funniest, darkest teen films of all time, I wouldn't have anticipated that you and your brother might once again achieve teen movie nirvana. Could it be that your inspirational well was already sucked dry by writing such dark-souled vampiric female characters in Heathers? Your next script, Hudson Hawk, failed spectacularly and later became a cult classic (but at least has the self-respect to be popular ironically).

Your convoluted plot is explained as breathlessly as a fifteen year-old girl might describe a spat at the spring formal; there are good guys and bad guys and bad good guys and good bad guys. Rose Hathaway is a 17-year-old half-human/half-vampire Dhampir, training to be a guardian to her best friend, Lissa, who is a peaceful, mortal vampire of royal blood who must be protected from the Strigoi (aka. the undead, immortal vampires). It's all rather exhausting, and none of it really matters unless you care about the players, which is impossible since you've drawn them so palely.

As I watched Rose valiantly attempt to spit out your Aaron Sorkin-lite rapid-fire dialogue, I was reminded of that other firecracker of a teen heroine, Veronica Mars, a wise beyond her years go-getter. But unlike Veronica, Rose isn't given lines with any crackle or nuance, and spends her time either delivering or receiving exposition. She does much of this in a too-tight sports bra while her trainer/love interest, Dmitri (Danila Kozlovsky), struggles to provide vital plot information in his thick Russian accent. This Baltic Taylor Kitsch is physically perfect for the role, but way out of his depth. Couldn't you have gone easier on the poor hunk during the on-set rewrites? Or gone easier on us? Subtitles maybe?

You and Mark seem to be playing mad scientist in an effort to make both tweens and their Moms feel equal in a look-honey-we-can-fit-into-each-other's-clothes kind of way: an 80s pop-culture reference here, a slick CGI sequence there. The gothic sets and oxblood colour palette are ripped straight from a Heart video. The frenetic pacing, more appropriate, perhaps, for a first-person video game, had me craving a Ritalin Latte. It's a shame that what scant, witty dialogue you supplied gets lost within Richelle Mead's labyrinthine source material.

There are some laughs here, if you're willing to flag them down. Most are delivered by the film's lead (and lone bright spot), Zoey Deutch, who I rooted for mainly because she just seemed so damned exhausted trying to stay one step ahead of your script's forced cleverness. She's the perfect hybrid for this film: a whip-smart, too-cool-for-school anti-hero played by the daughter of Howard Deutch, the man who directed the 80's teen classics Pretty in Pink _and Some Kind Of Wonderful. It was on the set of the latter film that he met Zoey's mother, Lea Thompson, herself the female lead in an epic trilogy (Back To The Future). Zoey has an ass-kickin' Ellen Page-vibe, and I hope this film acts as a launching pad for her the same way _Heathers worked for Winona Ryder (though, for Zoey's sake, I hope that's where the similarities between their careers end).

I get the feeling you wanted Vampire Academy to be the vampire movie for the cool kids and the cool parents. To be the Un-Twilight. You're pretty explicit about it, in fact: voice-over assures us early on that the vampires in this world "don't sparkle". But they don't exactly shine either. You and I both know this film will make a mint regardless of whether it's good or not, and maybe you're okay with that. But I have a feeling that the guy known for creating clever films for those on the fringe might not feel comfortable knowing he's made a middling blockbuster for everybody.

Sitting this one out,


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