Tragedy Girls – VIFF 2017 Review

The new film from director Tyler MacIntyre (Patchwork), Tragedy Girls, is a savage and cynical satire full of colorful off-color status quo commentary doubling as a paeon to slasher films and teen exploitation fare, particularly Michael Lehmann’s 1988 cult classic, Heathers.

And while it’s beyond doubt that every review of this film must mention Heathers at least once (I’ve gone and done it twice now) as the go-to precursor, that isn’t to suggest that this film is bereft of original ideas and its own serrated and incisive manner. Tragedy Girls is a film that treats superficiality and remorseless violence with a comedic sensibility all too rarely seen, earning and deserving its exacted laughter rather fiercely.

Alexandra Shipp (who you may recognize as Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse) is McKayla Hooper and Brianna Hildebrand (best known as Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool) is Sadie Cunningham, two social media savvy besties, each with an unhealthy death-obsession, and desire to be adored both in their high school, their community, and across the Internet.

When we first meet McKayla and Sadie they’re in the midst of kidnapping a vicious serial killer, Lowell (Kevin Durand), as they envision him as being their perfect mentor for a bloody killing spree they’re convinced will boost their online presence, as they are rising to online celebrity status via @TragedyGirls.

Part of the fun of the film, which is a pastiche-heavy smorgasbord of slasher film staples –– John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), and even the prestige horror of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) are amongst those name checked and paid homage –– is the requisite identifying of the pop culture that the characters here typify, but also in seeing just how much gratuitous bloodshed the movie will get away with (spoiler alert: a whole bloody lot!).

Mad props must be given to both MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill, who share writing credits for the film, as they amp up the carnage, comeuppance, snark, and taboo-smashing, in what’s got to be the new gold standard for sociopathic teen killer comedies.

Irreverent, rude, and gleefully uncouth, Hildebrand and Shipp are excellent in their roles of seemingly empty-headed Valley Girls with homicide in their hearts and an unquenchable desire for fame at any cost. Their pursuit of notoriety and cliquey veneration is more abrasive than subtle, of course, but their iconoclastic pursuit of online likes is hilariously offset by a strong comedic ensemble including Josh Hutcherson’s dreamy online rival, Jack Quaid’s loyal puppy dog-like groupie, Craig Robinson’s loopy local celebrity, and a particularly ticklish deadpan from Keith Hudson as Sadie’s oblivious dad, Chuck.

For all of Tragedy Girl’s bloodlust, backtalk, and splatter, it does a shockingly good job of mocking the pretensions of the established elite while jeering at so much of what grates about populist and online conventions. With its sharp-edged political assessment of American culture, Tragedy Girls is a subversive little provocation that clearly establishes itself as one of the year’s best genre films, and its reputation, like Sadie and McKayla’s, is destined to soar.

Taste of Cinema rating 4 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.