SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 9, 2011
Director: Emily Hagins
Writer: Emily Hagins
Starring; Elaine Hurt, Patrick Delgado, Santiago Dietche, Lauren Lee, Lauren Vunderink, Tony Vespe, Devin Bonnee
Every decade we have a new cinematic approach to the vampire genre (a majority of which involve some sort of adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula). There are classics (Robert G. Vignola’s The Vampire, F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, Universal’s and Hammer Films’ Dracula franchises, etc.) as well as the reverential revivals of “serious” vampire films that were released in the 1980s (Tony Scott’s The Hunger, Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys, Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, etc.) and 1990s (Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos, Michael Almereyda’s Nadja, Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire, etc.). In one way or another, cinema history leads us to the more recent past, with films such as Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (and Matt Reeves’ remake Let Me In) and the Twilight franchise. To be perfectly honest, I am not quite sure how or where the tween-tastic Twilight franchise fits into the history of vampire films, if it does at all.
There has also been a slew of vamp comedies and satires over the decades (Charles Barton’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, Stan Dragoti’s Love at First Bite, Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Malcolm Marmorstein’s Love Bites, etc.); but, for me (I by no means purport to be an expert on this subject), Joss Whedon’s television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the first production that matches note-for-note a snarky sort of irreverence with a catholic reverence for not only the vampire genre but for pop culture history as well. This is kind of sort of where 18-year old writer-director Emily Hagins enters the fanged foray with My Sucky Teen Romance…
Sure, MSTR is not nearly as snarky or catholic as BtVS — in fact, the tone is completely different (one might say that MSTR is sort of like BtVS all hopped up on Pixy Stix) — but both productions are coming from the same sort of sucky high school existence. As for the remainder of the vampire film pantheon, I would place MSTR somewhere along the lines of The Lost Boys and Near Dark (both great compliments as far as I am concerned) — though MSTR is not nearly as dark (heck, MSTR is probably the brightest vampire film of them all!).
This is Kate’s (Elaine Hurt) last week in town before she leaves for college and she is spending her final weekend with her best friends at the local sci-fi convention, SpaceCON. A fan-boy’s fantasy, Kate is a cute girl who likes comic books. Kate meets Paul (Patrick Delgado) while checking-out at the local grocery store (which also happens to be my neighborhood grocery store: Crestview Minimax IGA); Kate attempts to chat-up Paul, mentioning that she likes the comic book that he is reading, but he (like many comic book geeks) is completely clueless to her advances.
Fate or maybe it is just plain old-fashioned blood-lust, brings Kate and Paul together again at SpaceCON. Paul is looking remarkably paler and his teeth have become quite fangy…oh, wait, he must be dressed up in a vampire costume for the convention! To quote Kate: “teen vampires are all the rage right now!” Next thing we know, Kate is dressed up as a vampire too. Gosh darn it! Twilight is infecting all of the tweens and teens!
When Nancy Drew (Emily Hagins) goes missing, Kate and her friends — Allison (Lauren Lee), Jason (Santiago Dietche) and Mark (Tony Vespe) — become suspicious that danger is afoot (hint: his name is Vince [Devin Bonnee]), so they form their own version of Whedon’s Scoobies. Kate slowly evolves into a vampire expert (of sorts) while Jason relies on his impressive knowledge of monsters (he watches a lot of horror movies). Oh, and as luck would have it, Harry Knowles is hosting the Vampires 101 panel at SpaceCON today!
Even though MSTR is purposefully referential and shies away from any pretense of realism, the story is so much more real and grounded than the Twilight saga. Hagins clearly understands her characters — since most directors are not teenagers, this keen grasp of teenage characters by the director is a rarity in cinema. (I imagine that Hagins has probably experienced a sucky teenage romance more recently than 99.9% of all other film directors.) It also helps that the characters actually look like teenagers! (What a novel concept!)
MSTR is unmistakably a film for teens by teens. The good (?) news is that — at least judging from Hagins’ film — the awkward romantic or lack thereof experiences of teenage comic book/sci-fi/horror geeks has barely changed in the last 20+ years; so I expect that most aged comic book/sci-fi/horror geeks will be able to appreciate Hagins’ knack for teenage suckiness as much as I do.