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STUDIO MPI Home Video
RUNNING TIME 77 Minutes
• Director/Producer Commentary
• Behind the Scenes
• Deleted Scene
• Short Film: Cupcakes
• Blooper Reel
Twi so hard muthafuckas wanna find me. Twilight? Dat shit cray.
Emily Hagins, Elaine Hurt, Santiago Dietche, Lauren Lee, Tony Vespe, Lauren Vunderink, Devin Bonnée, Sam Eidson
On 17-year-old Kate’s last weekend in town before heading to college, she and her geeky friends head to SpaceCON, the local sci-fi convention. There, Kate meets Paul. He’s cute, but much to Kate’s chagrin, he’s also a recently turned teen vampire. When Kate tries to make a move on him, he accidentally bites her. Soon Kate and her friends discover that Paul is not the only vampire at the convention, and it is now up to them to stop the undead and find a way to save Kate before she turns.
There is a distinct lack of subtletly and nuance in amateur filmmaking. Young storytellers tend to paint in very broad strokes, imitating what they saw time and time again as young viewers. There’s nothing really wrong with lacking subtlety as a young filmmaker, especially when you’re seventeen, like Emily Hagins was when she made My Sucky Teen Romance.
Despite her age, Hagins is surprisingly accomplished. My Sucky Teen Romance is her third feature-length film. Growing up in Austin, Texas, she made her first film when she was twelve. That film is called Pathogen, and it’s a zombie film. It’s the kind of zombie film you might imagine a twelve-year-old movie nerd would make, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Austin’s film community (including Harry Knowles and C. Robert Cargill) showed tremendous support for this girl and her zombie movie, and before long, someone was shooting a documentary about the production. After the documentary hit Netflix and iTunes, Emily Hagins’ team of local supporters exploded into a bona fide fanbase. Now, she’s got a third feature film under her belt, and it’s a surprising one.
This film’s primarily teenage cast contains a lot of Hagins’ high school classmates, many of which are non-actors. Nobody in the cast is delivering an Oscar-caliber performance, and that’s okay. I understand why. Considering the circumstances, I think they all do a fine job. Our lead, Elaine Hurt, shows her inexperience, but is still able to provide an on-screen presence in which we can invest. The plot setup is uncomplicated, and at a scant eighty minutes, the film never drags.
In addition to lending a quick pace, the editing also serves the comedy fairly well. The correct rhythm is vital when trying to land a joke, and a shot lasting a few frames too long can be enough to make a gag land awkwardly. Luckily, there are more than a handful of genuine laughs to be found. There are a lot of jokes that don’t quite hit their mark, but it’s usually due to a funky line reading or a less-than-stellar joke. A scene comes to mind in which Harry Knowles (in a cameo as a vampire expert) asks a Twlight fan: “Are you fucking stupid?” I laughed, but only because it came off so genuinely mean-spirited that it momentarily shattered the film’s tone. It’s a broad, crude, hammering joke; one that could have worked brilliantly if executed with a touch of subtlety.
Usually, one of the last things to develop in a young storyteller is a delicate touch. In My Sucky Teen Romance, the art of subtlety isn’t quite there yet. Young filmmakers will try to emulate common tropes because that’s what they grew up on. It’s the equivalent of being in your first band at fifteen and playing covers just to figure out how it all works. And that’s OK. Slapstick that would have worked in a Marx brothers film shows up a handful of times in this film, like when a young man loudly strides face first into a wall because he was staring at a girl. We’ve seen this gag countless times, and it’s not so much a joke as it is a shrug.
Another sense that Hagins is still developing is the sense of narrative economy and order: how events unfold, and how these events reveal information to the audience. For instance, the film has a great prologue that reveals the past of the film’s villain, but the information revealed to us has no relevance to the rest of the film. Then, there’s an intercutting of two telephone conversations where our main quartet of nerds is introduced. All four of them are friends, and planning on going to SpaceCON together, but we don’t actually realize this until later, when they all show up to the convention. Then, we are introduced to Paul, the grocery store cashier/main love interest, when Kate shows up at the grocery store. After she exits the scene, the dastardly bloodsucker from the prologue shows up to rob the joint and set the plot in motion.
The vast majority of these opening scenes could’ve been greatly condensed, like so: Kate walks to the grocery store, talking to her best friend on the phone. Bringing Kate into the grocery store gives us an easy way into a phone conversation about her crush on “grocery store boy”, and could allow for some furtive glances around the aisles to establish their feelings for each other. Kate shares a cute moment with Paul at the cash register, leaves, and then our villain shows up to turn Paul into Satan’s lapdog. It’s all the same basic information, but accomplished in a more economical fashion.
Another issue is that Hagins isn’t quite sure what to show and what not to show. Case in point: when our evil vampire shows up at the grocery store, we are deprived of seeing an action beat, which could’ve been something akin to the bar scene in Near Dark. Instead, we get a cop-out: the grocery store clerks somehow become vampires, and we don’t find out until they show up at SpaceCON. So what the fuck happened at the store?! Why does our villain create two new vampires instead of killing them both? His motivations for doing this are never explored, even when the newly vamped clerks get the opportunity to ask him about it when he shows up to snack on Twi-hards at SpaceCON.
So yes, it’s got structural issues and some other assorted shortcomings, but with My Sucky Teen Romance, Hagins has shown admirable growth as a filmmaker. She’s light years beyond Pathogen, but still lacks the finesse of an experienced storyteller. Being a fan of filmmaking and not just films and filmmakers, it’s rewarding to see a young filmmaker discovering how to construct effective moments. Hagins is figuring out how great stories should be told, and while this isn’t a great story, it could be the stepping stone to one.
In its presentation, this film falls just a bit short. The audio track included on the disc is a 2.0 Stereo track, and while it isn’t terribly immersive, all of the dialogue is nicely audible (despite the fact that most of the vampires are lisping through their fangs). The video quality is sharp, but the color correction often varies greatly from shot to shot. Skin tones sometimes look normal, but are usually so pink that the characters all look sunburned.
The making-of featurette is informative, but short. The deleted scene, featuring more of Harry Knowles’ vampire expert, should have been deleted from the cameras’ memory cards before the footage was ever imported. The short film included on the disc, Cupcakes, features several of the actors from the main feature, but doesn’t really amount to much.
The commentary, however, is excellent. Hagins and one of the film’s producers reveal all the right things, like the fact that the main actors each created a Facebook page for their character, or that they painstakingly erased the reflection of a vampire’s own hand in his sunglasses. Stuff like that really gets me psyched about young filmmakers. Hagins’ enthusiasm is evident, and I hope mine is, too.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars