Horror remains a genre where, at the right price, filmmakers can explore almost anything no matter how depraved the subject or approach. And with Tragedy Girls, genre junkies and high school survivors get to see their worst fears fully realized: mean girls with some killer digs that go six feet deep.
Indeed, director Tyler McIntyre takes a decidedly tongue-in-severed cheek approach to the concept, which is high on style and struts with plenty of confidence. Also aided in geek appeal by the casting of X-Men stars Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse), the feature has a winning lightheartedness to its vicious cut downs, both verbal and physical, that will likely appeal to a future streaming audiences. This deft touch can even paper over the film’s narrative shortcomings as an amusing idea that’s never fleshed out with the wit or momentum needed to achieve its true end goal of being the Second Coming of Heathers.
Something like a feature length version of the ending to Scream 4, with the emphasis on social media obsessed sociopaths going on a serial killing spree as a shortcut to reality television levels of fame, the picture follows Sadie (Hildebrand) and McKayla (Shipp). They’re two high school BFFs who like to hang out, plan for prom, search for Twitter and Instagram followers, and torture stray serial killers they have captured in a warehouse, tormenting for tips on how to become the best.
Obvious sociopaths, both girls are played to dryly comic effect as two realists who want to be popular but don’t like all the sycophants that said popularity attracts. Rip-off their blog dedicated to local murders? Burn baby, burn. Be mean to them during cheerleader tryouts? Off with your head. Just generally making one jealous of the other’s attention by being a staring boy? Well, they have solutions for that too.
It’s all as sarcastic as 140 characters, which might be good, because it goes no deeper into its premise than a tweet, even with welcome cameo cannon fodder by the likes of Josh Hutcherson and Craig Robinson.
The appeal of Tragedy Girls is in its soft wickedness and game cast. Despite dealing with so much murder and mayhem, the gals are slaying peers only to slay on YouTube subscriptions, and with a relatively small budget McIntyre shows some mild flair for visualizing the often candy colored carnage.
The film opens strong with Sadie and some unwitting male virgin getting sacrificed to a serial killer in a parked car sequence that’s right out of urban legend. Convincing her necking beau to see what’s going on in the woods, he gets a machete to the face before McKayla shows up to help force another kind of face-to-face with the attacking Kevin Durand, who’s doing his best Buffalo Bill impression. It’s surface level bemusements that earn a boost from character actors happy to cut their own proverbial slice of ham.
In this vein, Robinson, who is also a producer on the movie, gets to cut up most as Big Al, a firefighter and local celebrity. These sort of bit parts can be extraneous, but are also necessary as the movie works best as a series of post-modern horror vignettes, as opposed to a building tale of terror.
At the center, Hildebrand and Shipp are appropriately chic with razor tongues, albeit Hildebrand does better at living in the shoes of someone who is crazy about killing rather than only being a crazy killer. Not that either are aided too greatly by McIntyre and Chris Lee Hill’s script.
Attempting to be disaffected and acidly self-aware, the dialogue needs more cunning in its stabs at humor. Instead it usually lunges for what is the easy laugh that does little to stitch the set-pieces together or match the playfulness of its heroines, who are constantly in search of prey.
Be that as it may, the film maintains a callow touch of the sardonic, and more than a few times reaches hellish harmony, such as an ending that cements this is a tale of girlhood friendships and their seeming mythic quality. As that era in life ends, deeds done to immortalize a special connection are to be revered as always glorious, perhaps even more so if prom dresses are accentuated by neon day-glow masks and soothing screams of classmates. That’s certainly worth a like, right?