In our year of the lord 2017, we’re all just doing it for the clicks. Trending tweets, clickbait headlines, and in Tyler MacIntyre‘s slick little slasher satire Tragedy Girls, a social media savvy killing spree. What easier way could there be for two sociopathic teens to get internet famous than chopping the heads off their coeds and riding their blood-spattered exclusive content to viral stardom?
Tragedy Girls stars Deadpool‘s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse‘s Alexandra Shipp as Sadie and McKayla; a pair of high school BFFs and next-level mean girls who decide the best way to get their true crime brand #TragdyGirls trending is to take matters into their own hands. The self-absorbed pals capture themselves a bonafide serial killer, Lowell (Kevin Durand), who’s been terrorizing their town. Once the killer is captive, they demand that he teach them the tricks of the trade, and the deadly duo take over where he left off, chopping down any schoolmate or pretty boy exboyfriend who rubs them the wrong way. And, of course, broadcasting it all on the internet to earn the instafame and endless attention they crave.
The film’s clever opening shatters traditional slasher tropes, letting you know what this movie is about from the get-go. Sadie, the beautiful blonde, is necking in the woods when a masked killer descends punish the lustful teens for their sinful ways — except this time, it’s a trap. Sadie and MK turn the tables, snatching up the killer for their own ends. “I’m gonna skull-fuck your severed heads while your parents watch,” he threatens with a maniacal laugh. They laugh maniacally right back in his face, loving it. “We’re your biggest fans, dude.” Game. Set. Match.
Once the executions start, they keep ‘em coming until the end credits with a series of gruesome, gory tableaus. It’s some real “Final Destination shit,” as the girls say. There’s the too-cool-for-school ex-boyfriend (Josh Hutcherson) who even makes his own murder look romantic. “You can’t make an omelet without killing a few ex-boyfriends.” Along the way, they also have run-ins with the local fire chief and resident sex symbol (Craig Robinson), who loves glory, pumping iron and being the town’s most eligible bachelor, and the local sheriff’s son (Jack Quaid), who threatens to drive a wedge between the bloodthirsty BFFs with his affections for Sadie and the potential lure of normalcy. You like these characters and you feel bad for the ones who bite it, but their just cartoonish enough to keep you in on the fun.
Tragedy Girls is a sharp piece of genre work, sure-footed enough to walk a razor-thin tonal tightrope. This movie wants you to cheer for Sadie and McKayla, and despite the fact that they’re horrible monsters, you do. They’re smart, sassy and ambitious as hell, squeezing in executions between extracurriculars and prom planning (though their idea of the perfect prom is probably a little, uh, different than your average teen queen). As the inseparable deviant duo, Hildebrand and Shipp are spectacular. They’re stars. They make slicing and dicing look stylish and their easy rapport makes the rapid-fire banter spark like a live wire. Fashionable, gorgeous and fearlessly attuned to what they want, these girls always look cool, whether they’re cheerleading, casually strolling their twitter feeds, or hacking through a corpse, and the film’s snazzy slang and edgy aesthetic calls to mind killer teen movies of the past, from Heathers, to Scream, to Jennifer’s Body, but falls just shy of matching their greatness.
There’s some wasted narrative opportunity with Lowell, who’s dropped and forgotten for most of the film only to resurface when he’s needed again in the third act, but the the major missing element in comparison to those cult classics is that while Tragedy Girls is clever, it doesn’t have much to say beyond a slew of quick-witted barbs. There’s plenty of opportunities. Our teenage generation is literally wasting away in the blue light of their smartphones. Sure, they’re more likely to kill themselves than others, but the downsides of living life online are a valid and rich source to tap. The president of the United States is a proud troll who regularly courts nuclear war on Twitter. It may not be a particularly unique sentiment to suggest that social media supports a culture of vanity and self-aggrandizing detachment, but it is a very accurate and frightening one, and we’re only now starting to see how far-reaching the effects will be. But Tragedy Girls doesn’t dig in to discover any searing social satire, it’s content to keep it surface level.
That’s fine, not every horror movie has to have a post-modern thesis but in that regard, Tragedy Girls has a lot more in common with classic kill-em-all slashers than the snarky self-aware fare that took over in the wake of Scream. Sometimes you just want to watch a fun, well-executed spin on the genre and Tragedy Girls fits that bill to a tee. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a meat and potatoes slasher, especially one as quick-witted and good-looking as Tragedy Girls, and that’s no small treat in its own right.