Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls raucously blends Detention with Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon. Heavy on quick-witted teen jargon (Jennifer’s Body on speed), light on serial killer training. It’s equal parts gruesome and forthcoming, as two pixie dreamgirls promote themselves on social media while classmate corpses pile up. Internet interactions allow psychopaths to hide in plain sight, while a lust for attention makes hobby murders sound like a serviceable road to popularity. “Like, retweet and follow!” our characters beg, because that’s the world we live in now. A millennial apocalypse set in the digital realm.
Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp are the “Tragedy Girls,” two high school seniors who run an online account that’s obsessed with true-crime. Specifically, the idea of serial killers. Brand popularity increases when their sleepy town of Rosedale falls victim to a string of deaths, but this isn’t a shock to Sadie (Hildebrand) or McKayla (Shipp). The “Tragedy Girls” create their own buzz, by slaying their way through Rosedale for maximum marketing expansion. Why wait for a massacre when you can stage your own? It’d be like going to college without committing your first mass-murder. So fetch.
It’s Sadi and McKayla’s lip-gloss kisses that skewer slasher norms, as MacIntyre, along with co-writer Chris Lee Hill, pen a script that seems to be half comprised of emojis. Kevin Durand – one imposing S.O.B. – plays a true slasher villain who’s taken hostage by Rosedale’s “Tragedy Girls,” just so you know how fearless (and non-caring) these tweeny tyrants are. Shipp is the sassy Queen Bitch while Hildebrand stays snarky and sarcastic, but both kill with the maturity of hormonal time-bombs. Early on, Shipp gazes into the eyes of one victim – mid stabbing – only to have Hildebrand interrupt with a romantic last-smooch because said victim is a total heartthrob. They’re psychos-in-training who adapt ideas from Breaking Bad for real-life use, and mistake know-it-all attitudes for actual confidence. Loving parents, prom committee jobs, cheerleader status – the perfect cover for pint-sized maniacs.
Tragedy Girls is very much a love-letter to horror fans, including references to Carrie, Martyrs, Final Destination and more. It’s so tongue-in-cheek that MacIntyre’s basically licking the inside of his mouth for ninety minutes. A school-project diagram is used to explain the difference between serial and spree kills, with a Detention vibe. Sadie lends crush Jordan (Jack Quaid) horror titles that lead to small geek-out conversations. Both Sadie and McKayla note that a certain kill sequence would be “very Death Proof” if executed correctly. So much “knowledge” is pulled from cinematic influences, allowing for an appropriate level of pop-culture-nerdiness that mirrors millennial name-dropping – plus, nostalgia is fun!
Don’t worry, kids. Tragedy Girls never gets preachy or holier-than-thou. MacIntyre may sneak subtle warnings about social media abuse into the “Tragedy Girls'” quest for online domination (ok, maybe not so subtle), but first and foremost, this is a horror comedy. Craig Robinson shows up as a sexy fireman – whose trainer constantly talks about how bulked he is – for a dynamite weight room throwdown with his “Tragedy Girls” adversaries. Josh Hutcherson’s long-gazing biker stud waxes unpoetic bullshit (hilariously as girls drool), savage brutality highlights situational comedy (janitor not noticing dismembered limbs) and maximum chemistry ensures besties for life. Even a one-off bit player like Katie Stottlemire‘s “bookish” student finds her groove, submissive to Savannah Jayde‘s control. Dope stylings, better music and personality to boot? Tragedy Girls gets a gold star.
Hildebrand and Shipp are more than psychopaths – they’re bored daddy’s girls with dangerous disregard. Two females given a chance to play evil, because sometimes girls just wanna spill guts. It’s a refreshing arc that MacIntyre pushes from square one, when Sadie admits to giving unenthusiastic handjobs at Sweetheart Bridge – but only to use jocks as slasher bait. Men are lured by sexuality, blinded by lipstick and cute outfits. It’s not exactly a cry for feminism, but points are awarded for representation that allows women to kill without any underlying motives (through mind games that are usually role-reverse). Determined, forward-thinking ladies who can be just as sinister as their male counterparts. And you know what? I’d take a girl-powered Tragedy Girls sequel over any of the failed male slasher hopefuls who’ve come and gone in the last half-decade or so.
The only thing holding MacIntyre back from perfection is a weaker third-act that goes expectedly ga-ga, and a final “performance” that burns a little duller than we’d hope. Style still flaunts a certain attraction – the girls green and pink prom masks with duct-tape cross eyes – but late-film interactions shift to a lesser focus. Granted, it’s more about how good acts one and two are than how bad act three is. There’s just a noticeable drop in excitement and entertainment come MacIntyre’s third act, doubly so as loose ends are wrapped up (a bit too quickly).
Nevertheless, Tragedy Girls is still a wicked, womanly triumph. Hearts and smiley faces float from smartphones not only to reflect social media interactions, but to mirror our own approval of Tyler MacIntyre’s suburban gorefest. What’s not to love about underage killers who are obsessed with vanity, to the point where they’re fingered because McKayla has to wear her cutest shoes? Sadie is even brazen enough to rock a kitchen-knife earring in public, because that’s how these chicas roll (heads). Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp turn their “Tragedy Girls” into a household horror name, ready to graduate towards a bigger brand of death. This was just step one – a splattery testament to outlandish genre violence and way-too-cool characters. You better not cheat us out of phase two, Mr. MacIntyre.
Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp are your new favorite slasher queens thanks to Tyler MacIntyre's girl-power horror comedy.