“They suck at school,” announces the poster for this high school horror comedy, but in point of fact the whole movie sucks. Richelle Mead’s six Vampire Academy novels have sold about eight million copies, and this horrendous adaptation of the first one, produced by the Weinstein Company, operates on the assumption that every ticket buyer will be a 13-year-old girl with a Talmudic knowledge of the series. The movie takes place at a tony private school, St. Vladimir’s, populated by bad vampires (who drink blood and are immortal, unless you knock them off with a stake through the heart), good vampires (who drink blood but can be killed), and infected humans who protect and feed the good ones (when they get bitten, they go all orgasmic). I had to look all this up afterward, though, because the filmmakers plop you right in the middle of it and pile up characters and intrigues so fast you can barely keep track. If you met this movie in the hall and asked for directions to shop class, it would brush you off.
Heathers (1988) was the first comedy to plunge into the shark-infested waters of high school social groups with the bitterness the subject demands; watching it after something like The Breakfast Club (1985) was like following a cup of warm milk with a shot of grain alcohol. But these things have a way of getting watered down; 16 years after Heathers, Tina Fey wrote a cuddlier version called Mean Girls (2004) that made $86 million, and now Mark Waters, who directed Mean Girls and has been riding its coattails ever since, has won the assignment of wrestling Vampire Academy onto the screen. The result is a giant garbage heap of weak quips, delivered by an assortment of pretty boys and girls, amped up with cheesy moments of animal cruelty (a fox hanged on a door, a cat killed and stuffed into a backpack), and glowered over by Gabriel Byrne as a haggard parent with some hazily defined connection to the school.
The story is so garbled I hestitate to get into it, but in essence it’s a girly romance among three BFFs: blond, bland Lissa (Lucy Fry), a good vampire and some sort of supernatural heiress; Rose (Zoey Deutch, impersonating Ellen Page), the human who protects her; and their pal Natalie (Sarah Hyland), who always strikes out with the guys. Teenagers are awash in self-pity, which is why fantasy fiction gets such heavy traction in high school. It’s easy to look down on kids who read such escapist stuff; then again, I never had to worry about executing a classroom lockdown should a heavily armed classmate decide one day he was Vlad the Impaler. Anyone so miserable he has to escape into something as bad as Vampire Academy needs more than his own pity, and he can have mine.