More so than with other art forms, cinema can range from the most miniscule budgeted films to the biggest of Hollywood productions. From films costing over $300 million to under 20 thousand dollars, the great divide between films should make it difficult to fairly criticize and compare. And yet, the budget of a film should be one of the last things to consider when judging the artistic value of a film. A cynical and bored filmmaker with the biggest of budgets will not make anything of value, whereas a talented and passionate filmmaker can make something great with just pennies.
This is something that was driven home once again recently as I had the opportunity to see Emily Hagins’ My Sucky Teen Romance at the 2011 London Fright Fest.
The film, written and directed by the 18-year old Hagins, is a vampire comedy set at a science-fiction convention. It follows Kate, played by the talented new-comer Elaine Hurt, as she attends one last SpaceCon with her high-school friends before leaving for university.
While the label of vampire comedy may steer some to believing it is a spoof film, the laughs surprisingly don’t come from making fun of other films. The film is at its core a love story, that happens to feature vampires.
It is a strange concept, but the mix works fantastically well as vampires use the convention to their advantage and blend in with of the fans. It is a clever premise, and Hagins had the common sense to focus more on the comedy and emotions rather than the inherently goofy idea.
Hagins was able to finance the film through two IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaigns, and her hard work in getting the film financed comes through on screen. It clearly had a very small budget but its never feels as if the money is being wasted. The special-effects, something I have come to forgive in micro-budget filmmaking, are surprisingly good. And as well utilized as they are, what works more than anything in the film is the comedy. Taking cues from Joss Whedon and Edgar Wright, the comedy is both natural and witty. It is the film’s greatest strength, and I found myself laughing more than at any other film I have seen this year.
Of course with a film this ambitious and low budget, you have to expect weaknesses. With micro-budget filmmaking there is somewhat of a scale when it comes to reviewing them. If the film’s positives outweigh the weaknesses caused by the low budget, they can be ignored. Luckily, Hagins was able to put together a cast of newcomers who are, for the most part, likeable and natural. Occasionally the film stumbles, but the pacing is so quick that it never hinders the viewing enjoyment too much.
This may not be her debut film, however as the two previous features by this talented filmmaker were made at such an early age, it often feels like one. She clearly learned from her mistakes with her two earlier works, but the film’s low budget and young age of the filmmaker make this movie feel more like a very confident accomplished debut rather than a third feature.
My Sucky Teen Romance is a clear signal that we should expect great things from this talented, young filmmaker.