Mean Girls meets Scream in Tyler MacIntyre’s trendy satirical midnight horror-comedy Tragedy Girls. Like Heathers for the social media age, MacIntyre’s coming-of-age serial killer misadventure satirizes iPhone-obsessed culture as two popular girls go on a killing spree in order to gain followers, accrue likes and establish a brand. A fucked-up ode to friendship first and foremost, Tragedy Girls’ kill-happy mentality is demented no doubt but the relationship at its center sincerely (and gruesomely) cuts to the core of high school woes and the trials of BFF-dom. Not to mention, it’s bloody good fun.
Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand are Sadie and McKayla, the hashtag-obsession ladies in question. By their own admission, they’re the Tragedy Girls and they want you to know it. Remember Lou from 2014’s excellent Nightcrawler? A wee hours stringer who, in the quest for late night ratings, eventually turned to staging the very horrors he was meant to capture. Sadie and McKayla are like that, except more developed and a whole lot cuter.
More upset by the knowledge that an ex has a larger Instagram following than seeing, ya know, a dead body, these chicks are twisted as a tree on the Evil Dead set but they derive a kind of pure, bubblegummy joy from the whole venture that proves absolutely infectious. As they giggle their way through a string of murders, the urge to cackle along with them proves irresistible. Imagine the meta, genre-mocking ambition of The Final Girls applied to what I can only assume was Kevin Smith’s (failed) attempt to make unlikely, new-tech-addicted teenage brat-cum-heroes in Yoga Hosers and you’ll have somewhat of a read on Tragedy Girls.
When Sadie and McKayla ensnare a dim-witted but prolific serial killer (Kevin Durant) in hopes of a mentor, the titular duo show themselves more than comfortable with literal blood on their hands. Just when they’re getting into the swing of things, they find their spree interrupted when Sadie spouts a budding crush on the local sheriff’s son (Jack Quaid). His obvious seniority is distracting – he looks squarely about 30 and is supposed to be a high school student – but it’s easy enough to overlook when the wild twists their relationship takes manifests.
With a well-staged set piece that effortlessly brings to mind to Brian de Palma’s Carrie, the film ends in a climatical prom scene that punctuates just how misanthropically madcap MacIntyre’s vision truly is. Before the final knife is drawn, teacher Mrs. Kent (Nicky Whelan) confronts the girls who have oh-so-shamelessly turned the local string of murders into media opportunities, calling out their narcism and sociopathy. It feels like a shot in general towards the millennial generation and the apathetic parents who happily turn an eye, it’s a note that Tragedy Girls doesn’t dwell on too much but in its oeuvre of messages, it’s one of the stronger selling points. After all, the appeal of Tragedy Girls is often more than skin deep.
In between, we’re treated to a pair of secondary characters sure to delight audiences. Craig Robinson crops up as Big Al, a local hero of sorts/fire department chief, while Josh Hutcherson (Hunger Games) plays that aforementioned Insta-star who spouts lame duck “philosophy” that would comfortably fit into Jaden Smith’s twitter feed. They make prime fodder, interesting prey in their own right in a film that at every turn champions the girls (and their performances). Yes, the co-stars are surprisingly great but Shipp and Hildebrand’s infectious enthusiasm cannot be understated
Sardonic and gleefully amoral, MacIntyre’s sick, slick creation is a thing of feminist beauty that weaponizes its teenage stars’ femininity without reducing them to sexual prop pieces. As Sadie and McKayla carve bodies like Thanksgiving dinner, right and wrong go out the window and if you can’t have a sense of humor about it, you’re in for an unpleasant sit. At times, the violence, while certainly bloody, seems a bit stale. There’s one particular scene in a weight room that stands out but otherwise there’s a lot of slashing that fails to do anything that Jason and his hockey mask couldn’t. With modern day moralizing that’s as ironic as it is hilarious, Tragedy Girls is sure to find cult status, especially – I would imagine – but not exclusively with young impressionable girls with a thirst for the horror-side of cinema. This may just be their Heathers.
CONCLUSION: Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand are fantastic as fame-seeking murderesses in this sharp satire on social media culture. With shades of Mean Girls, Scream, Heathers and Carrie, ’Tragedy Girls’ is the meta-horror-comedy of 2017 that is never quite as over-the-top or inventive with its violence as I wanted.