Tragedy Girls is a festival stand-out: the horror comedy featuring two break-out stars that you’ve been waiting for.
Let’s bitch it out…
I heard great things about Tragedy Girls from my Bloody Disgusting friend Trace Thurman, so I was eager to check out a screening. The film has been described as Heathers for a new generation, which is pretty significant claim, but the comparison is apt given the tone and subject matter.
“Tragedy Girls” is the name of the blog of two aspiring serial killers, high school seniors McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Briana Hildebrand). The film opens as they lay a trap for local predator Lowell (Kevin Durand), who they hope will act as their mentor. The besties plan to build on Lowell’s killing spree to secure their own legacy, becoming famous – or is it notorious? – in the process. And if this means disposing of the competition – be it romantic, academic or popular – they’re ready to do whatever it takes to get the likes, retweets and exposure that they think they deserve.
The film, by Tyler MacIntyre, features pretty transparent commentary on the nature of celebrity and the damaging impact of social media. McKayla and Sadie are obsessed with their online presence, checking their phones regularly to see how their videos and posts are performing. MacIntyre visually represents this using little cartoon icons and reinforces the girls’ clever, albeit amateur, talents in a video they create with the help of Sadie’s admirer Jordan (Jack Quaid) about the distinction between serial and mass murderers. If I have one criticism of the film, it is that the alarmist message about the dangers of social media narcissism is too easy and facile. Certainly the girls’ desire for fame directly contributes to at least one murder (Josh Hutcherson, playing McKayla’s lady-killing ex, is hilariously dispatched because he has more followers and refuses to give them a shout-out), but the girls have clearly been sociopaths for quite some time. If anything, their bizarre lack of empathy as the bodies pile up, in combination with their willingness to convert school memorials and television interviews into plugs for their blog, would immediately put them on the police’s radar in real life.
These are minor criticisms, however, because the film is so much damn fun. Shipp and Hildebrand (already stars on the rise thanks to their roles in the X-Men and Deadpool franchises) exude star quality, commanding attention whenever they are on screen. The dialogue perfectly captures the way teens speak, and both actresses sell the whip-smart slang with conviction and attitude. The film gets a lot of comedic mileage – because this is undoubtedly a horror comedy, albeit a black one – from their facial reactions and their diminutive status, playing on the perception that girls couldn’t possibly be involved in such heinous acts. Of course anyone who has seen Heathers knows better.
The film’s other strength is McIntyre and co-screenwriter Chris Lee Hill’s clear reverence for horror films. This is a film that will work for mainstream audiences, but there are references galore to horror classics, both in the dialogue and the plot. Hell, the setting of the climax is prom (which Carrie enthusiasts will quickly predict the outcome of). Sidebar: I love that the girls know all about the horror icons, but McKaylah can’t be bothered to learn Dario Argento’s name.
The Bottom Line: Tragedy Girls is great fun – a comedy slasher that tickles the funny bone, delivers the action and gore and cements the star power of leads Shipp and Hildebrand. Bonus points for the latter’s earring game, which is frequently one-eared and gorgeous. Between this and Better Watch Out and Mayhem, horror comedy is having a moment and I couldn’t be happier.