High school was more or less the same for everyone, right? You had football games, prom, cliques, and, of course, rabid, death-obsessed teen serial killers stalking the halls. Okay, maybe I’m mixing up Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls with my own experience, I’ll have to check on that. However it breaks down, this puts a whole new spin on the mean girls phenomenon. It’s biting, wicked, and deceptively earnest.
Lifelong besties and burgeoning psychopaths McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp, X-Men: Apocalypse) and Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand, Deadpool) just can’t catch a break. And by catch a break, I mean the social media-fixated bffs can’t get anyone to care about their blog about the real life murders in their small mid-western town. That is, until they take matters into their own hands and create eye-catching content of their very own. And by that I mean commit gruesome murders. It watches like Heathers meets Halloween, only with selfies and hashtags.
From tracking down and slaughtering a hunky ex (Josh Hutcherson) to kidnapping a practicing serial killer (Kevin Durand) as a mentor to staging crime scenes so no one can possibly mistake them for accidents, Tragedy Girls indulges in and eviscerates the tropes of high school movies and teen slashers. There’s the lovelorn Jordan (Jack Quaid), who not-so-secretly pines for Sadie, only to miss her obvious flaw; the inept local sheriff (Timothy V. Murphy), who refuses to see what smacks him straight in the face; and local heroes, like firefighter Big Al (Craig Robinson), who steal their thunder and must be removed in the goriest fashion.
As cheeky and acerbic as it is, Shipp and Hildebrand shine and carry Tragedy Girls. It’s all break ups, make ups, and murder; eye rolls and neck stabs. But for all the vicious psychosis, driven quests for notoriety, and wicked vamp posturing, McKayla and Sadie are much more than empty caricatures. The script from MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill develops them as both friends and felons, and the actresses give them depth, nuance, and emotion. Except, you know, when they cut victims up with a table saw—then it’s straight up splatter.
The leads have a legitimate chemistry that sells a sneaky sweet, heartfelt on-screen bond, and no joke, there’s a moment near the end where I got a bit misty. It’s this central friendship that keeps the film from becoming a disposable genre exercise with a witty premise. Tragedy Girls could easily have become one of those movies with a killer hook and concept, but that run out of material half way through and sputter to the finish. It’s on Shipp and Hildebrand selling their bond that it never falters.
Underneath Sadie and McKayla’s raging narcissism, their motivation is just to be seen, to be noticed for who they are. Too often they’re pushed to the back row, passed over in class, and treated like disposable props and arm candy. Like with Jordan, all he sees is a pretty face and a pixie cut, glossing over everything else. But they’re done with that. They stand up and demand the world take note in bold, brash, albeit totally psychotic ways.
It’s easy to dismiss Tragedy Girls as a shallow send up of mean girl archetypes and horror movie tropes. The concept is patently ridiculous and the execution gleefully wallows in arterial spray. But to skim over it as millennial genre trash does the film a disservice and misses the point. Clever and fun, awash in pitch-black humor, and giddy with subversion, this also paints a true-to-life picture of deep friendship. It just happens to also be a viscera-soaked portrait. Imagine a heart-shaped picture frame of two friends hugging, covered in blood, and you have a good idea of what to expect. [Grade: A-]