Tyler MacIntyre takes the 90s teen movie model and gives it an extreme makeover in Tragedy Girls, an overstuffed but ridiculously fun horror comedy about best friends Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp), two girls on a mission to boost their social media fandom as amateur crime reporters. The wise-cracking dynamite duo brand themselves “The Tragedy Girls” on social media, where they’ve been amassing followers by reporting on the ongoing killing spree in their small Midwestern town — only their interest in the murders is more than just curiosity. Despite their ever-growing popularity, the feisty high school seniors become obsessed with the serial killer, and equally obsessed with achieving the largest following on Twitter. In order to do so, they devise a plan to trap and kidnap the killer in order to pave what they see as a fast and easy road to fame. You see, now that they have the killer as their captive, the girls are free to embark on a mission to satisfy their darkest fantasies and turn themselves into celebrities the only way they know how. The plan is simple really: commit a few murders and be the first reporters at the scene of the crimes. As the crime spree tears up their town and becomes national news, the death-obsessed teens begin to see a rise in their social media profiles and a huge spike in traffic to their true crime blog.
Tyler MacIntyre, director of the excellent Frankenstein variant Patchwork, brings the same streak of black comedy to Tragedy Girls. Part Mean Girls, part Clueless, and equal parts Scream, Tragedy Girls plays like a familiar story of a high school friendship between two girls who just happen to be sociopaths. As the girls become an overnight sensation and panic grips their small town, their friendship is put to the ultimate test. Indeed, the film is loaded with stock elements of classic teen movies and slasher films, but the central theme is really about the strength of their friendship. It’s a testament to MacIntyre’s direction and the performances of both leads that we the viewers want their friendship to last and overcome their differences — even if they are going around murdering their classmates.
MacIntyre really excels when it comes to blending the bright, bubblegum palette of teenage angst with the aesthetic of the horror genre. The murders are over the top and cartoonish, taking a stab at several popular horror films, and along with Pawel Pogorzelski’s camerawork, MacIntyre does well in setting up a few jump scares and piling on the gore. But alongside the scenes of blood-drenched horror are just enough moments of fleeting humanity to capture the overwhelming confusion and pressure of high school life.
Since Tragedy Girls debuted at SXSW, a lot of comparisons have been made to Michael Lehmann’s dark, cynical, subversive, and iconic 80s film, Heathers,. While the comparisons can be justified, the key difference between the two movies is that here our protagonists have no principles, and don’t regret the terrible things they’ve done. They truly are the very definition of teenage psychopaths, and while the narcissistic teens are fun to watch, they are without a doubt horrible people. The more bodies pile up, the more the more problems arise in their lives, and the worst they become.
Scripted by both MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill (and based on an original screenplay by Justin Olson), Tragedy Girls is not only a slice of self-referential horror but also a wonderful critique on the pursuit of fame in today’s social-media-savvy times. Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram aren’t just passing fads — they’ve become a part of our daily lives, and making a modern horror film about high school seniors without including some form of social media seems downright dishonest. Thankfully, Tragedy Girls manages to incorporate social media well while poking fun at the stereotype of the vacuous teen. It’s a ridiculous setup, sure, but the action embraces the silliness for what is a blast from start-to-finish.
MacIntyre’s previous horror film also revolves around an unusual female protagonist making him a unique personality in the horror genre who does well in reversing standard roles in horror films to fantastic effect. Both Tragedy Girls and Patchwork are dark, smartly written, and have something to say about the world we live in. I’m curious to see what he’ll deliver next.
Those looking for something to watch this Halloween should consider this film. At its heart, Tragedy Girls is a hilarious send-up of slasher movies that buries a surprising amount of genre-bending twists under buckets of gore. MacIntyre keeps things dark and tasty, and the dialogue and high school politics resonate with a sharp sting. These characters are not likable and they aren’t meant to be, but that doesn’t stop Tragedy Girls from being one of the freshest horror-comedies to emerge in years.
– Ricky D