Horror has begun to catch up with the role of social media and its rich potential as a source of the horrific. Over the last few years, the horror genre has given us Unfriended, The Den, and the dreadful Friend Request, all exploiting various aspects of the anonymous (and sometimes not anonymous) cruelties of our “likes’ based culture. Earlier this week, I reviewed the fun #FromJennifer that hits on many of the same ideas underlying Tragedy Girls. Directed by Tyler MacIntyre, Tragedy Girls is higher-budget, conventionally filmed exploration of the same social media obsession and homicide. Think of Tragedy Girls as Mean Girls meets American Psycho.
From its opening scene, Tragedy Girls delights on playing on audience expectations and subverting them. High school best friends McKayla and Sadie are your typical teenagers – they’re cheerleaders, sit on the school prom committee, and obsess over how many followers and likes they get on their Instagram accounts. And they also happen to be psychopaths. When they turn the tables and catch a serial killer preying on their small town, McKayla and Sadie decide to commit their own murders to drive up followers on their true crime blog, Tragedy Girls.
Bloody Fun That Will Leave You With a Teenage Lobotomy
Tragedy Girls wastes little time getting the ball rolling. It may be a film about teenagers but you can be rest assured that this is not a PG-13 film. In the opening minutes, McIntyre delivers a quick machete to the head and, moments later, “besties” McKayla and Sadie are cutting up and disposing of a body. It’s a film where body parts are cut and carved with an almost manic energy. Victims are hung, shot, and stabbed and, in the film’s best kill, a victim’s face is introduced to a buzzsaw. Like the best horror comedies, McIntyre relishes in giving the audience the same blood-letting his main characters enjoy. Most of the deaths are over-the-top but it fits the film’s overall tone and the strong gore effects sell it.
Of course, Tragedy Girls works so well in part because the violence is delivered with an abundance of sharp, dark humour soaked in pop culture references.
Of course, Tragedy Girls works so well in part because the violence is delivered with an abundance of sharp dark humour soaked in pop culture references. Our media-savvy killers reference Breaking Bad in one scene while dumping body parts into acid and name-drop Final Destination later after another freakishly inventive murder. The dialogue is smart and witty in contrast to most films in the slasher subgenre. Its meta-based pop culture humour is clearly inspired by films like Heathers and Scream. We’ve seen a growing number of these more ‘meta’ oriented films so Tragedy Girls risks feeling a little too familiar. Fortunately, the script is clever enough to keep the film from feeling like a rehash of ideas from better past films.
Totally ‘Fetch’ Performances
Tragedy Girls could have come across as a one-note Heathers rip-off but it’s elevated by a smart script and excellent performances from its lead actors. Based on a screenplay by MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill, Tragedy Girls offers a few twists in the road, effectively shifting audience expectations. While it’s certainly another take on the slasher subgenre, its story does enough differently to keep even veteran horror fans on their toes. More importantly, MacKayla and Sadie are invested with some actual real human qualities, which is impressive considering their characters are also psychopaths. Some viewers may feel the inclusion of a love interest for Sadie and its threat to her friendship with MacKayla was unnecessary, but it adds some layered complexity to the film’s characters. Moreover, the film’s screenplay deals with this development in a manner consistent with the original premise.
Both Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand score big assists for the film’s smart screenplay. Each actress gives a winning performance, delivering their lines with just the right amount of smarmy attitude one would expect from their characters. They make you believe in the film’s onscreen friendship, even managing to conjure up some empathy for MacKayla and Sadie. Interestingly, both actresses have ties to Marvel – Shipp played Storm in the most recent X-Men: Apocalypse and Hildebrand is Negasonic Teenage Warhead from the Deadpool films. Craig Robinson also has a small in the film and while he largely plays it straight, his death is hilariously over-the-top.
A Date Worth Making
It doesn’t necessarily trend new ground, but Tragedy Girls is wickedly fun, managing the difficult task of balancing its bloody gore with its snide humour. With great performances and a clever script Tragedy Girls joins a growing number of films and television shows offering biting commentary on our growing social media obsession. For some viewers, the meta-based humour that’s been around since Wes Craven gave us Scream may be starting to feel a little old, but Tragedy Girls will still manage to feel fresh for horror fans.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-