SXSW 2017 Review | ‘Tragedy Girls’ Are the Queens of Sociopathic Media
Horror filmmakers have been struggling for a while now to make the internet seem scary. FearDotCom was a broken URL, Unfriended was quickly blocked and Halloween: Resurrection simply sucked a lot. But I suspect that the real reason these films failed to turn technology into terror was because they were too focused on the technology part. The scariest thing about a weapon isn’t the device itself, it’s the person who wields it.
Tragedy Girls isn’t a horror movie about the internet, it’s a horror comedy about the people who want to use the internet in service of their wickedness. Alexandra Shipp (X-Men Apocalypse) and Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) play McKayla and Sadie, two high school students who decide to become serial killers in order to drum up free publicity for their online social media personae, “Tragedy Girls,” who expose and condemn the very violence in society that they are, of course, secretly propagating.
To that end, McKayla and Sadie go hunting for and quickly nab themselves an old-fashioned slasher killer named Lowell, played by Kevin Durand. Ostensibly they want Lowell to teach them the tricks of the trade but it turns out they only really need for third act plot reversals. The majority of Tragedy Girls depicts the acerbic adventures of McKayla and Sadie as they decimate the population of their high school (which they’re actually very good at) and try to reap the rewards on social media (which is harder than it sounds).
Tyler MacIntyre’s impish horror comedy spares us the obvious moralizing and melodrama that stems from most celebrity stories. Tragedy Girls is firmly on McKayla and Sadie’s side, and the audience is encouraged to root for them even though they are obviously monsters. It’s an approach that would be off-putting if MacIntyre didn’t strike the right tone. Tragedy Girls evokes the cynicism of Heathers but does so within the eccentric and heightened reality of Better Off Dead. Craig Robinson isn’t just a heroic firefighter, he’s also universally acknoweldged as the strongest, most masculine man in town. Josh Hutcherson isn’t just the coolest kid in school, he’s so damned cool he makes dying seem sexy.
In other words, it’s okay to kill these people. They’re cartoons, but they’re great cartoons, who exhibit just enough emotion to make you like them but not enough to make you lose sleep over their splatstick murder. McKayla and Sadie are wicked but so driven, so distinct, and so well cast that you can’t wait to see what they’ll do next. It’ll probably be evil, it’ll definitely be funny. And one thing’s for sure, Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand are the real deal. They’re breakout stars who make this material work.
If there’s a flaw in Tragedy Girls it’s that the film has an inspired inciting incident – catching a serial killer to make him your mentor – and then kind of forgets about it for a while. Kevin Durand is playing just the right type but the movie makes little use of his except as a stray plot point and occasional scapegoat, and it would have been nice to see him interact with the two leads more to make his latter appearances seem less contrived, and to give Alexandra Shipp and Brianna Hildebrand a different dynamic to play with.
But when all is said and done, Tragedy Girls is a victory. It’s a viciously funny horror comedy with memorable characters who, I suspect, will speak to fans of the genre and even win over new recruits. It’s not about the internet at all. It’s about people. And these people are evil bastards. You gotta love ‘em.
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William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.