There's a special kind of unhappiness that attends a very bad film made by people who have known better and done much, much better, people who've made movies you don't just like, but love. That's the case with this project's main men: Daniel Waters, who wrote Heathers, and his brother Mark Waters, who directed Mean Girls. And while they've both been involved in other movies that weren't nearly as resonant as either of those sardonic teen comedies, just saying their names out loud is enough to make you think that teaming them up for yet another stomp through bad-attitude adolescence is a perfect idea, no matter how derivative the source material they're adapting may be.
How derivative? Vampires, that's how. Just in case you were still not getting enough of those contemporary YA lit staples thrown at you all the damn time. Or magic at a highly specialized private school, another under-represented area of fictional endeavor. At this point in the history of paranormal subject matter, when all mythologies have been convoluted and blown open to the point of parody, attempting parody by grafting your own best work onto the re-animated corpse of these two overworked revenue sources and dunking it all in a Pretty in Pink bath might seem like a great idea, a way to devour the silly goth-animal that's already chasing its own tail right into a black velvet-lined irrelevancy. Because, sure, vampires, I know, but then again because Mean Girls! Heathers! They have to weigh more, yes?
The plot isn't simple but it involves teen vampires known as Moroi, protected by a specialized class of supernatural half-human helpers known as Dhampir. The Dhampir must shield the Moroi from the bad news Strigoi. Specifically, it concerns Dhampir Rose (Zoey Deutch, daughter of Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch, hence all shout-outs -- Ducky! -- cutely nestled into the plot and dialogue) and Moroi princess Lissa (Lucy Fry). They're symbiotically connected as protector and protectee, food-friend and feeder. Initially on the run from their own hellish Hogwarts, they're captured and dropped back into high school drama, with all the cattiness, backstabbing, slut-shaming and vampire ninja battles that entails.
The girls just wanna have a strange blood-version of fun but the boys are jerks and the other girls are jerkier, the parents just don't understand, the teachers won't leave them kids alone and the poor, misunderstood evil Strigoi just need to please please please get what they want, which is to destroy all these annoying kids. Will it happen at the big dance? And after everyone is done fighting and silver-staking instead of dancing will love finally bloom between Rose and her trainer Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) or Lissa and her brooding Christian (Dominic Sherwood), the Moroi with the Strigoi parents?
The answer doesn't matter. Everything new here is old again, slinking around in the shadows of past glories, avoiding the sun, trying to cast a franchise spell. The quips and smart-ass banter were funnier, sharper and smarter when they did all this the first couple of times, but the powers that be are counting on you not caring or being too young to remember. And that means it was probably out of the Waters' hands from the moment they signed on, The Weinstein Company being notorious for taking films away from filmmakers. Delay the release, test market the thing into shapelessness, chop away the stuff that's over your target demo's collective head, drain all the blood from whatever creative vein was formerly pulsing with life. Take the money and run, sequel or no. Sucks, really.