The first half of just about every movie these days, particularly in the YA genre, features a wide-eyed innocent who discovers a secret world then spends an ungodly amount of time with their jaw agape, panting "Nooo... this can't be real!" The thing I loved about Vampire Academy is that there was no shocked, stuttering ingenue -- the only innocent is the audience, who is dropped smack dab in the middle of the secret world, and forced to hit the ground running with a story already in play.
The fact is, with all the media we consume these days, everyone has become a very quick-witted viewer. You could walk in on some friends watching a movie or TV show you've never seen before, and within a minute you could tell them who all the characters are and have a pretty good guess as to where the whole story is heading. Vampire Academy's lead character, Rose Hathaway, eventually guides the viewer with a little narration helping you up to speed, but we don't take the locomotive off the tracks to explain everything before it happens.
Rose is certainly like no other lead character you are going to come across in other movies. She is loud, impulsive and bitingly funny. Quick to shoot her mouth off or throw a punch and ask questions later. She's more like a character that Robert Downey, Jr. or Johnny Depp would play than the tediously sincere or just downright wimpy female leads that are being portrayed at the multiplex.
Rose's natural irreverence and subversive wit are what attracted me to the project in the first place, and immediately lent themselves to adaptation from my brother Daniel (Heathers, Batman Returns), whose lacerating dialogue fit these characters like a glove. It's been great to see him cut through the trap of preciousness that is so easy to fall into.
All this added humor would be empty if there weren't real life and death stakes, and Rose is charged with protecting her best friend Lissa from genuine dangers -- predatory vampires outside the gates of their school, and malevolent forces gathering against her on the inside. Built in to this is a very distinctive and cinematic connection that I've never come across before, their one-way psychic bond. Rose can suddenly drop in to Lissa's brain and body, seeing and hearing everything she can. (We called it "Lissavision" in our script.) And Lissa is completely unaware when she has Rose as a psychic passenger.
At first their bond strikes Rose randomly, but then she learns how concentrate and control it, which leads to funny, interesting, sometimes awkward dynamics in their relationship. As Lissa says: "I hate having a best friend I can't lie to."
You've probably heard of the Bechdel test, which evaluates movies based on three simple questions: Are there at least two women in the primary cast? Do they talk to each other? If so, do they talk to each other about something other than a man?
It's shocking how few Hollywood releases can actually answer those three questions with a "Yes." Not only can Vampire Academy pass the Bechdel test easily, the complex, turbulent and devoted relationship between Rose and Lissa is the centerpiece of the movie. Sure, they both have love interests, Rose and Dimitri, Lissa and Christian, but it is the two women's relationship that drives the story and compellingly holds your attention.
The German title of Richelle Mead's first Vampire Academy book was "Blood Sisters," and when it comes to our movie's central characters, I think that name says it all.