What if aspiring Instagram influencers/YouTubers started killing people to get more followers? That’s the pitch for Tragedy Girls, the latest in an increasingly long line of female-led slashers.
At some point when the world stopped paying attention, the slasher genre got feminist as fuck. I’m not talking about Carol Clover’s Men, Women and Chainsaws isn’t-it-nice-that-slashers-always-end-with-a-final-girl argument. That kind of conversation usually revolves around the slashers of the 80s, the genre’s heyday. No, I’m talking about post-modern slashers which flip the script and play around with the final girl trope, either turning it into a mother-daughter meta drama (The Final Girls), something a character can turn into even if she isn’t doesn’t fit the old puritanical model (Happy Death Day), a metaphorical reflection on [insert hot take here] (It Follows), or simply an act put on by women who turn out to be the true killers (Final Girl, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Bound to Vengeance).
Then there’s 2017’s and newly-Hulu-available Tragedy Girls, the second feature from film school buddies Chris Lee Hill and Tyler MacIntyre, the former sticking to writing, the latter co-writing and directing. They did a page-one rewrite on a pre-existing script and turned Tragedy Girls into the story of two sociopathic female leads – Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp – who plan a series of murders during their senior year of high school as a tool to boost the social media following for their true crime vlog. Tonally, Hill and MacIntyre pull from Scream, Heathers, Jawbreaker, and Prom Night II while also treading similar ground as Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West. The result is a film which mixes slasher tropes (stalk, attack, slash) with high school movie tropes (girls can be so cruel to each other) with Ingrid’s cynical take on social media addiction and ultimately aims to amuse more than it truly wants to scare.
The opening scene promises great things: A late night make-out session between Sadie (Hildebrand) and a cute guy with a killer muscle car is interrupted by strange noises outside. Rather than evolve into the standard slasher scenario where both Sadie and the guy end up kabobed by some masked killer we quickly learn the whole thing is a trap set by Sadie and her friend McKayla (Shipp). They’ve been studying the pattern of a local serial killer named Lowell (Kevin Durand) and want him to train them. But that’s not exactly an easy conversation to initiate, and they don’t entirely trust this psycho (nor should they).
Sadie’s been going to the same makeout spot with random guys for weeks looking to lure Lowell out (“My girl had to give over 30 handjobs waiting for you,” McKayla later says). Once he finally attacks, they’re ready for him with various boobytraps and handy dandy tasers at the ready. Except, of course, they didn’t tell Sadie’s makeout-partner-of-the-night anything about this. He, like just about everyone else in the movie, quickly learns that for Sadie and McKayla everyone around them is just collateral damage.
The sight of the film’s presumptive first victims capturing and taunting the killer calls to mind Jason Goes to Hell, except there the intent truly was to capture and destroy ole hockey mask zombie mother boy. Here, Sadie and McKayla just want Lowell’s help, and if he’s not willing to play along they’ll lock him up and frame him for all the murders they’re going to attempt anyway. It’s an incredibly self-assured opening 7 minutes, with one of my favorite moments being when McKayla scolds a predictably defiant Lowell in the exact same way you would a misbehaving dog (“Bad Lowell!”).
To some degree, though, Tragedy Girls never quite lives up to the promise of this opening. The shock of its twist and premise is never met with a truly thoughtful reflection on why Sadie and McKayla are like this. The script simply takes their sociopathy as gospel and runs with it, which certainly frees Shipp to vamp it up considerably.
I get the idea of looking at teenage girls constantly texting on their phone and wondering how far they would go to drive more traffic to their blog, YouTube channel, or Instagram page, and Tragedy Girls certainly earns plenty of laughs from Sadie and McKayla’s frustration when their killing spree doesn’t initially do much for their social media numbers. But there’s something slightly half-baked about it all, as if it’s a great idea in the body of a merely good film, entertaining, but overly reliant on our assumptions about millennials. Plus, there is certainly an argument to be made that it goes too far with its ending, as memorably argued between the director and writer and Dread Central Presents’ Rob Galluzzo on Shock Waves earlier this year.
But I’m a sucker for a horror-comedy, particularly one that takes on the slasher genre. Neither Sadie nor McKayla prove to particularly adept at killing people, which lends all of the death scenes a funny edge while also playing the old “Are you we rooting for them to get caught? Or to get away with it?” Psycho card. Their troubled team-up against a very game Craig Robison (playing a character named “Big Al”) is a particular highlight.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Take Thoroughbreds and Ingrid Goes West. Add in Heathers and Jawbreaker, and Scream, and up the satire considerably and pull way back on any kind of social commentary. That gets you Tragedy Girls, a film with more promise than delivery, but more than enough fun to please horror-comedy fans. It works better as a story about female friends than it does as a slasher, but I’ll take it.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- Think of this as an alt-universe Deadpool spin-off where the constantly-texting Negasonic Teenage Warhead met a friend who brought out the worst in her.
- Speaking of which, Shipp and Hildebrand are each part of the X-Men universe now, Shipp playing the new Storm and Hildebrand Negasonic, and this connection is actually what led to them co-starring in Tragedy Girls. Through running into each other at comic conventions, they became friends and jumped at the chance of doing Tragedy Girls together.
- “Dario Appregio” is the best mispronunciation of Dario Argento I’ve ever heard.
Tragedy Girls is currently available to stream on Hulu.