Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) are long-time best friends who run a crime blog investigating local murders in their small midwestern town, but they don’t have nearly as many followers as they believe they should. Through their investigation, Sadie and McKayla track down and capture the serial killer plaguing their town – but they don’t hope to bring Lowell (Kevin Durand) to justice. Rather, they wish to be trained by him and learn what they can about becoming serial killers themselves, though they’ve already studied a great deal. But, when Lowell is unwilling to help or team up with Sadie and McKayla, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands.
Together, Sadie and McKayla conspire to commit a series of murders and use their insider knowledge of the crimes to boost the social media profile of their blog. However, things don’t go quite according to plan and the town’s Sheriff, Blane Welch (Timothy V. Murphy), makes the girls’ goal that much more difficult, even as his son Jordan (Jack Quaid) continues to help Sadie edit videos for her blog and investigate the murders. As things in their small town continue to escalate with each new horrific murder, Sadie and McKayla set events into motion that could potentially destroy their friendship – oh, and cause the deaths of many of their fellow students and townspeople.
Tragedy Girls mixes teen comedy and horror movie tropes, with a dash of nihilism in the vein of Heathers, but is very much its own film, tailor-made for the social media generation. The result is a fun and funny horror comedy that has a surprising amount of heart thanks to the friendship between Sadie and McKayla being centered in the film. While the movie intends to upend expectations from the get-go, it does so in a way that feels predictable, at times merely falling in line with archetypes rather than subverting them. Tragedy Girls is a delightfully subversive and darkly comedic take on a slasher horror film, though it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the genre.
The film was directed by Tyler MacIntyre from a script he co-wrote with collaborator Chris Lee Hill. The pair last worked on 2015 horror comedy Patchwork, a modern take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with strong female characters at the forefront. Similarly, Tragedy Girls centers two well developed, and rather unlikable, female anti-heroes in Sadie and McKayla, whose friendship provides the heart of the emotional arc in the film. Everything in Tragedy Girls is centered around their dynamic and how it’s challenged by the girls’ plans, with even the murders they commit contributing directly to their evolution. In this way, Tragedy Girls is almost more teen comedy than horror movie, but there’s still plenty of gore.
As already stated, each element of Tragedy Girls‘ storyline works to progress the arc of Sadie and McKayla’s friendship and how it’s impacted by their serial killing ways, including the murders. Still, Tragedy Girls delivers on the kind of outrageous deaths fans would expect of a horror comedy about two social media-obsessed teenagers stumbling through their first murders – complete with blood that is too-bright red, taking it a step or two away from realism. But, the unrealistically gruesome deaths are part of the fun of Tragedy Girls, which heightens both the gore and the girls’ obsession as a means of subverting horror conventions and stereotypical female characters. That’s not to say Tragedy Girls doesn’t revel in its many bloody kills, but there is more depth to it than on first glance.
That depth comes from the performances of Shipp and Hildebrand, who portray Sadie and McKayla as exceedingly unlikable narcissistic sociopaths, but who are entirely compelling as a pair of long-time best friends – best friends who just so happen to share murderous impulses. Their relationship, however unconventional it is on a fundamental level, actually follows a fairly typical teen comedy/romantic comedy arc. Positioning a platonic friendship where a romantic relationship would be is in and of itself subversive, but Tragedy Girls doesn’t dive deeper into upending expectations than simply flipping the script. Still, without the surprisingly grounded nature of Sadie and McKayla’s relationship – brought to life rather sincerely by Hildebrand and Shipp from MacIntyre and Hill’s script – the more absurd elements of the film wouldn’t work.
Of course, while the success or failure of Tragedy Girls no doubt rested on Shipp and Hildebrand, the pair are surrounded by some fun and compelling performances, including brief but hilarious turns by Josh Hutcherson as McKayla’s ex-boyfriend Toby Mitchell and Craig Robinson as local fire chief Big Al. Quaid has a quietly subversive role as Jordan, who would be a gender-swapped Final Girl akin to Sidney Prescott in Scream if Tragedy Girls weren’t Sadie and McKayla’s story. Durand, meanwhile, plays the one-note stereotypical horror movie psychopath in Lowell, but with enough creepiness that he works excellently as the straight man to the antics of Sadie and McKayla. Like the horror beats and the emotional arc of Tragedy Girls though, these performances mainly work inasfar as elevating Sadie and McKayla – which they would no doubt appreciate.
All in all, Tragedy Girls is a fun and unique entry in the horror comedy genre that may not quite reach the greatness of Heathers and Scream simply because it doesn’t upend expectations enough to be monumentally different from convention. Certainly, female serial killers – just like well developed unlikable female anti-heroes in film and TV – are unique enough that the premise of Tragedy Girls is already working with a largely fresh idea. Coupled with the performances of Hildebrand and Shipp, as well as the many fun nods to specific horror movies and the genre as a whole, Tragedy Girls delivers an entertaining and different horror comedy perfect for fans of the genre, but may not be necessary viewing for those who can’t stomach the movie’s more gruesome death scenes.
Tragedy Girls is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 98 minutes and is rated R for strong bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references.
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