Austin-based writer/director Emily Hagins completed her first feature when she was only 12 years old. The making of that film, “Pathogen,” was the subject of a documentary called “Zombie Girl: The Movie.” Hagins was the youngest ever recipient of a Texas Filmmakers Production Grant. Considerable accomplishments for a student not yet out of high school.
“My Sucky Teen Romance” is her third feature, and tells the story of teenaged Kate, who goes to the local SpaceCON sci-fi and horror convention, and suffers the accidental bite of Paul, a teenaged vampire recently turned undead himself but fighting his new instincts and the influence of his fellow vampires also at the convention. Paul, Kate and her friends must find a way to save her from permanently becoming one of the undead, and defeat the other vampires who are turning their convention into a real horror show.
And so…what to do, what to do, oh sensitive film reviewers? With micro-budgeted features like this, one is torn between admiration for the filmmakers’ DIY pluck, and dismay at the unavoidable limitations of amateur performances and production values. Hagins clearly knows her visual vocabulary, and the film is effectively shot by Jeffrey Buras and edited by Shane Gibson. The special effects are, well, effective and judiciously used (the vampire-in-sunlight flameout is a high point), and a few well-judged moments of humor jump off the screen.
But the film is undeniably burdened by the community theatre acting, and yes, that includes a barely tolerable cameo by Harry Knowles. The script chooses to play this scenario straight-faced and by-the-book in its narrative events, albeit in a relatively low-key way, and the pacing sags in the middle, despite its short 77-minute running time. Given the deliberately pasty Pattinson look-alike in a key role and the steady eye-rolling references to teen vampires in current pop culture, I kept thinking that the satire was just out of sight, hiding behind the shaky line-delivery, waiting for just the right moment to jump out and laugh its fool head off with us. No such luck.
Still…why be a total Scrooge? “My Sucky Teen Romance” is clearly a labor of low-paid genre love (wow, that sounds kinda dirty), and the overall sincerity of the project comes through in every frame. It is a truly jaded, Sandler-ized heart that can’t find something to admire in this effort, even if it’s only the cheerful lack of pretension and big-budget arrogance.
“My Sucky Teen Romance” is a Dark Sky Films release, and is unrated (though language would rate it an ‘R’ under MPAA guidelines). Video is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The Blu-ray looks fine, though the digital clarity reveals some of the uneven lighting and make-up.
Audio track is listed as “English 2.0.” with English SDH subtitles. Soundtrack is clear and uncluttered, but sound effects seem muted.
A commentary track with writer-director Emily Hagins and producer Paul Gandersman. Nothing terribly surprising, but informative at times.
A slightly better-than-average promotional video with cast and crew interviews, and interesting details about the production design and challenges of working low-budget.
A deleted improvisational scene featuring Harry Knowles. As with most deleted scenes on home-video releases, it’s not in the movie for a reason.
Cupcakes, a comedic short film featuring some of the cast members and directed by Hagins.
A short blooper reel with the usual hoop-de-doo, and the theatrical trailer.
So really, it comes down to expectations. Is “My Sucky Teen Romance” a great film? No, not really. Is it painful to watch? Again—no, not really. There are charms to be found if you go in with the right mind-set, and expectations suited to the material. Lastly, is it preferable to any film with the words Tyler Perry in the title? You betcha.