Some directors start their careers in ways that tend to define the way they are talked about for quite a while. In the case of Emily Hagins, for example, it’s virtually impossible to talk about her without mentioning the fact that she completed her first feature (a zombie film entitled Pathogen) at the age of 12. Hagins’s drive to make the film made her something of a local celebrity in her hometown of Austin, Texas, and gained her national attention after the release of Zombie Girl, a documentary about the making of Pathogen. Hagins’s next film was a little-seen ghost story called The Retelling, and now her third feature, My Sucky Teen Romance, is being released on DVD and Blu-ray by Dark Sky Films. But the question remains: While Pathogen was a surprisingly competent feature for such a young filmmaker, how has Hagins evolved as a filmmaker since?
Pretty well, as it happens. In My Sucky Teen Romance, Kate (Elaine Hurt) and her friends are prepping for their last SPACECon before Kate heads out of town for college. Her best friend Allison (Lauren Lee) is determined to help Kate have a convention fling before she goes to college, while her friend Jason (Santiago Dietche) pines away for her and his best friend Mark (Tony Vespe) just wants to party. Just before the weekend of SPACECon, Kate’s grocery-store clerk crush Paul (Patrick Delgado) and his stuck-up coworker Cindy (Lauren Vunderink) are held up and turned into vampires by Vince (Devin Bonnée), a vampire who has figured out that a convention where people dress up like monsters is the perfect cover for a real monster to set up an all-you-can-eat buffet.
When Kate and her friends arrive at SPACECon, Allison pushes Kate to make a move on shy Paul, and she does, but with surprising results. An accident causes Paul to sink his fangs into Kate’s neck and turns her into a vampire. Now her friends have to figure out if there’s a way to turn Kate back before it’s too late, and try to stop Vince and Cindy from eating everyone at the convention. Both of these tasks turn out to be easier said that done: Vince’s plan is working out spectacularly well thanks to the post-Twilight boom in teenage girl vampire fans, and the only way to turn Kate back into a human requires a huge sacrifice.
My Sucky Teen Romance is brisk and fun, clocking in at 77 minutes. Hagins’s technical expertise behind the camera has increased tremendously since Pathogen, and not just due to the obvious upgrade to a non-VHS camera. The film looks very nice and is often quite funny, although there are still some jokes that don’t quite land the way they should. The cast– several of whom return from Pathogen— is clearly having a great time, and Tony Vespe steals the show as Mark. There’s a small bit of gore, but mostly this is about playing with the idea of a real-life vampire among cosplayers, and about the awkward dynamics of teen romance. My Sucky Teen Romance is a lot of fun, and confirms that Hagins is a talent to watch.
Dark Sky Films released My Sucky Teen Romance on DVD and Blu-Ray on 4 September 2012. Special features include a commentary with Emily Hagins and producer Paul Gandersman, a “behind the scenes” featurette, a deleted scene, blooper reel, trailer, and “Cupcakes,” a short film by Hagins.