★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Because high school can be… murder.
(That was my Horatio Caine impression. Not bad, eh?)
Have you ever wished you could see Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool (2016) team up with baby Storm from X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) as murderous high school BFFs determined to maximize their social media presence? I know, right? Me, too! Well, it just so happens that with director Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls our wish has been granted.
This glittery, splattery, darkly humorous little movie brings us into the senior year of high schoolers Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand from Deadpool) and McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp from X-Men: Apocalypse). Two inseparable best friends who co-run a true crime blog via Twitter (#TragedyGirls). Unsatisfied with their follower count, the film opens with the entrepreneurial pair capturing a serial killer, Lowell (Kevin Durand from The Strain). When Lowell turns out to be uncooperative as a teacher in the fine art of mayhem, our two budding reporters decide he’s of more use as patsy than professor. Hey, what better way to get the inside scoop on horrific killings than doing them yourself! And so begins our anti-heroines’ quest to be horror legends with a truly impressive number of social media followers.
Tragedy Girls premiered at SXSW in March 2017 and was picked up by indie studio Gunpowder & Sky for distribution. While on the festival circuit, it strutted away with a bunch of wins for Best Picture as well as earning Brianna and Alexandra each some wins for Best Actress. Does it deserve all of those shiny medals? Yes. Yes, it does.
Sure, committing crimes to improve your own news articles isn’t particularly original. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler (2014) put that idea into much more effective practice than this movie did, but Tragedy Girls isn’t trying to be all that original. When it comes right down to it, this is another teen slasher film in a long line of teen slasher films. It may be flipped on its head since we’re following the predators instead of the prey — which, again, isn’t original — but it’s still got gruesome deaths and a social phenomenon that it’s attempting to satirize (even though the social media craze tends to satirize itself). It’s even got a machete-wielding psychopath! If that doesn’t say “teen slasher movie”, I don’t know what does.
For a connoisseur of such fare, however, Tragedy Girls is just fun. If there were any production quibbles, missteps, or goofs, I was enjoying the movie too much to notice. It’s also a great movie for playing “Who’s That?”. As in, I don’t know if someone owed someone else a favor or if this indie project was fronted by (a Hunger Games-related) Daddy Warbucks, but whatever the case, there’s all kinds of people in this movie:
- Josh Hutcherson (the Hunger Games series) as a sensitive motorcycle guy
- Loren Lester (from the 1979 cult classic Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) as the school principal
- Craig Robinson (“Darryl Philbin” from The Office) as a local fireman hero
- Jack Quaid (from a couple of the Hunger Games movies) as the hopelessly devoted guy in Sadie’s friend-zone
- Timothy V. Murphy (True Detective and tons more) as the town sheriff
- and even William Tokarsky (uncredited in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire according to IMDB) with a tiny part as a janitor
All told, the cast has decades of experience and it shows in the quality of the acting.
Garbage in, garbage out, though, right? If the screenplay isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, the worst thing you can do is actually make a movie out of it. Fortunately, the screenplay for Tragedy Girls is very good. One of the film’s festival wins was for its screenplay, in fact. Not that that’s a perfect metric for a good film (as we discovered with Family Possessions), but it doesn’t hurt. The dialog between the girls is snappy, believable, and peppered with little gems like “…to make an omelette you have to kill a few ex-boyfriends.” which makes for a rather likable pair of sociopaths.
Is the movie scary? Not really. It’s a horror/comedy (very, very dark comedy). There’s a healthy serving of gore, but it’s not a movie that ratchets up the tension hoping to scare your socks off. If you’re not super squeamish, this might actually be a good introduction to the more splatteriffic movies out there. There’s a bit of the ick-factor, but they don’t dwell on it. Overall, Tragedy Girls doesn’t feel like it’s trying to break any new ground or make any sort of huge, social impact. It’s just a colorful, humorous (albeit murderous) hour and a half of slashery goodness aimed at pure entertainment.
And, truth be told, entertainment is always #1 on my list whenever I hit “play”.