It’s tough for horror-comedies to sustain a sharp wit with cutting commentary on genre and what it represents. Tragedy Girls maintains its edge and incisiveness throughout. Simply, it’s a smart mixture of Clueless and Scream for the social media age, but there’s also depth to the slickness. The grins of the teen psychos at the film’s center have us alternately laughing with them and shocked at what they’re masking.
Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are high school seniors in a usually sleepy Midwestern town that’s been hit with a series of murders. In an effort to use the killings to boost their social media profiles, the besties locate and kidnap the local lunatic (Kevin Durand), demanding his wisdom to start a spree of their own. After being rebuffed, Sadie and McKayla imprison the masked killer and go it alone, slaying those who annoy them. The duo then uses their vlog to memorialize the dead and create hysteria by antagonizing the local Sherriff and rallying the locals to demand justice. Likes and shares follow in droves.
The entire film hinges on the relationship between the girls, and the two characters are delightfully demented. Sadie and McKayla share a rapid-fire, instantly quotable banter that’s believable and comes off as familiar instead of overwritten in the clever screenplay from Chris Lee Hill and director Tyler MacIntyre. They’re also three-dimensional, being lovers of the macabre but also cheerleaders and president and vice president of the prom committee. The girls are brash, strong, and resourceful, with a warped perspective, which makes them more interesting – and more dangerous. Sadie even deals with conflicted feelings over a suitor (Jack Quaid, great at blending meekness with curiosity). Part of her is flattered and part annoyed by his charms. Hildebrand and Shipp are fantastic, nailing every zinger and reveling in the butchery.
Their handiwork is also horrific. Deaths are gory and elaborate, and while plenty of nods are made – including a great one to Michael Myers’ head tilt – the references don’t dominate the action. The true juxtaposition is the real-life mayhem with the online angst. The self-named Tragedy Girls gain a huge following by peddling populism and bromides, which only emboldens them to continue the carnage. The dangers of narcissism and the obsession with online pretense are skillfully studied here, and seem especially relevant in 2017 when Twitter might kill us all.
The production design is colorful, the music is poppy, and the direction is energetic. While the style is dynamic and the pace is brisk, there’s much more below the surface. Yes, Sadie and McKayla are absolutely wrapped up in themselves, but their vanity goes deeper than their iPhone screens. The undeniable chemistry between Hildebrand and Shipp cements the co-dependency while making us chuckle. That lifelong bond also makes us care about them.
Fresh, fun, and timely, Tragedy Girls works as cautionary tale and escapism simultaneously. People live their lives online, often without considering real-world implications, and that notion is played up enticingly here. The trajectory of the Tragedy Girls, while aggressively and entertainingly exaggerated, is terrifying. And tragic.