Tragedy Girls taps into bloody, sardonic gold and is the Spring Breakers, Scream, and “Broad City” mash-up you never knew you wanted.
“Hashtag Tragedy Girls!”
Picture Jason Voorhes in the middle of one his trademark killing sprees. He’s killed his fourth precocious teen of the evening and everything’s playing out how it should. Jason readies his blade for another fresh victim when all of a sudden he’s hogtied, kidnapped, and forced to spill all of his killing secrets. That’s essentially the idea that Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls opens up with and it’s such a wonderful treat.
To break this down a little further, Tragedy Girls is basically Spring Breakers meets Scream meets Broad City. Who doesn’t want to watch that movie? It’s a pitch black, super dark horror comedy that intrinsically wraps death and fame into one morbid idea. Either you’re on board with that broad premise, or not. However, if this is your sort of thing and you can try to not take it too seriously, you’ll have a lot of fun with this. Two death-obsessed teenage girls kidnap a serial killer and force him into mentoring them into becoming his protégés. When he fails to play by their rules, they go at it on their own and blossom into their own self-sufficient serial killers in the process. It’s goddamn great and that’s just the tip of the machete.
The film’s opening scene is pure bliss and the layered sort of deconstruction of a horror film that just makes you smile from ear to ear. Suspicious noises plague a couple that are making out in a secluded area, but when the guy shoots down every opportunity to investigate what’s going on he’s demeaned and called a “little bitch.” He’s smart enough to avoid the tropes of a horror film, but ostensibly forced into them because the spunky, little spitfire that’s in the car with him is in on the whole thing and super obsessed with serial killers and the like. The scene then effortlessly morphs from a helpless girl fleeing from a murderer to the tables being turned on the guy, with him now being the target. It’s an introduction that certainly gets your attention, immediately establishes the film’s tone, while also making you wince at the gore and laugh at the dialogue.
Tragedy Girls is also a lot about branding, believe it or not. Serial killers like the Zodiac Killer or Son of Sam were truly victims of branding and not successfully building a name for themselves. Mashing up serial killing with social media trends and hashtags oddly fits together quite well. It’s not just about the murders; it’s in how you advertise them. This all makes for an incredibly modern take on serial killers, even more so than say American Psycho or Scream. It often feels like a Chuck Palahniuk novel.
There’s a brilliant little montage about the beauty and art of serial killing that the two Tragedy Girls, Sadie and McKayla, have edited together that takes a kitschy scrapbooking approach to death and gloom. It’s a pretty fine distillation of what the film is all about. At one point one of these budding serial killers says to the other, “We’re about to graduate and go to college and we haven’t even started our first killing spree.” The film handles the idea of murder like how other films show teens agonizing over trying to lose their virginity before graduation. Tragedy Girls wins when it takes relatable teenager problems, like feeling like nothing that you do matters and putting them in the context of murder. It leads to a number of satisfying parallels.
The film also doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the murders themselves. In fact, it seems to take delight in making each murder more outrageous than the last. There’s one, in particular, that’s set within a gym where weights are hurled around and it’s just insane. Each death goes out of its way to be gratuitous and gory, but in the best way possible. A standout soundtrack also compliments all of these murders. The music selections are all around fantastic and really push the material hard and make it pop more as a result. They’re all such unpredictable, anachronistic music selections, not unlike McKayla and Sadie.
McKayla and Sadie, the titular Tragedy Girls (who are played with gleeful insanity by Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand), are as catty and desensitized to violence as the rest of the generation is with trolling and cyberbullying. It’s also pretty damn great to see these two outright referencing films like Final Destination within their massacres. Plus, the fact that their murders continually resemble accidents, which they then need to “dress up” because they want these murders to develop a reputation, is really great.
It’s continually fun to just watch these characters bounce off of each other in this bizarre relationship that they’ve built for each other. They’re genuinely huge fans of this killer and having a goddamn ball as they terrorize him. It’s even more fun to watch these two girls juggle their double lives. They face a mundane senior year at school on one side of their lives and their murder-hungry ids on the other.
Kevin Durand (who was always a welcome presence on The Strain as the street-smart exterminator, Fet) also does strong work here as the over the top, unhinged serial killer, Lowell. That being said, McKayla and Sadie dish it back just as hard. Everyone’s impressive here in these roles, which greatly helps out this extreme balancing act that often risks tumbling over. If you’re not on board with these insane characters, the whole thing is lost, but these actors rise to the occasion.
As McKayla and Sadie’s murders continue, these girls slowly see a movement forming around them, which makes for an interesting final act that truly tests their bond. The film reinforces the dangers of fame as control slowly slips away from the Tragedy Girls. All of this also beautifully culminates at a prom, because of course it does.
As fun as all of this is, Tragedy Girls does get into a bit of a pattern that whenever some new obstacle or voice is raised up against McKayla and Sadie, it becomes pretty clear that they’re next on the chopping block. That being said, each execution is pulled off in a creative, visually impressive manner. I’m just a little surprised that the kidnapped serial killer angle didn’t take up more of the film. But it takes confidence to push such a compelling component of the film into the background. It’s also a little reductive to see this indestructible duo get broken up over a boy, but that’s sort of the point. Behind everything that goes on here, Sadie and McKayla are still just teenage girls.
Tragedy Girls does so much right that it’s hard to begrudge it for the few things it misses the mark on. It presents itself with such confidence and frivolity as it screams its meth-ed out message to anyone that will listen. A strong cast, quick pacing, and a distinct look all help turn Tragedy Girls into something special. It’s the very best kind of blood-soaked satire.