FANTASIA 2017: TRAGEDY GIRLS

I’m not sure where I stand with Tragedy Girls. Maybe I’ll have a better understanding by the time I finish this review. I have always been a proponent of films that make you root for the bad guys, and films that make you question yourself in how you’re reacting to certain characters and situations – but there is a line that Tragedy Girls crosses that…I don’t know. I’m not sure if it made me appreciate the full-on balls to the wall approach of the filmmaker, or check out of the film because the last shred of humanity had been sucked out of it. I honestly don’t know. The fact that it’s making me ask those kinds of questions of myself is a good thing, I guess. And I suppose that is enough for me to recommend it, just to raise the potential of your having to ask yourself those same questions. And, at the end of the day, Tragedy Girls is kind of a blast.

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The self-labeled ‘tragedy girls’ of the title are McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Brianna Hildrbrand), two bubbly seniors who love two things: either other, and murder. The film opens with the two girls trapping a local killer (Kevin Durand) at the expense of a hapless teenage boy, their hope being that the killer, Lowell, will teach them his methods of murder. Unfortunately for the girls, that doesn’t go as they planned. So, they decide to keep killing people, pretending to be Lowell, and using the murders to bolster their “Tragedy Girls” social media empire. The girls move through a series of victims, desperate to gain as much exposure as possible – that is until the shy and tech-savvy Jordan (Jack Quaid), who also happens to be the son of the hapless local sheriff, starts moving in on Sadie, testing her relationship with MyKayla. Josh Hutcherson pops up as McKayla’s ex-boyfriend, basically sending up his teen heartthrob image; and Craig Robinson delivers a delightful turn as a gym-obsessed fireman who is a bit of a sex symbol to all the ladies in town. It’s a fairly impressive cast, all delivering fairly impressive performances.

When it’s all said and done, Tragedy Girls is a film about friendship, and how the people that we meet and connect with are there through thick and thin. Shipp and Hildebrand have amazing chemistry as MyKayla and Sadie, and it’s their energy and spunk that turn Tragedy Girls into something really special. But it’s also their relationship that really tests the limits of what a normal audience can handle, in terms of antagonists as protagonists. Even when they are doing pretty terrible things, you can’t help but root for them – because the people they are killing are dying in inventive and sometimes humorous ways; because their glee is infectious; because it’s all taken in such a light-hearted manner. But the final few minutes turn a different way. When one character – the sort of moral center of the entire film – is killed, I checked out with them. What happens completely reinforces the ideas of ‘friendship’ and ‘commitment’ between McKayla and Sadie, but I lost all ability to follow them on their journey. Even the final act of malice, which involves the murders of a large number of people, didn’t register to me as brutal and unfortunate as the one that precedes it. I didn’t need for that character to live, per se, but I did need his death to mean more than it did. And so that is where I am really torn.

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That said – from the moment this film began, I knew I was in safe hands. The cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski, the score by Russ Howard III, and the direction from Tyler MacIntyre – this is not like every other horror film out there. It’s a dark comedy that understands what the term ‘dark comedy’ means, much like Heathers and Scream. I have to credit the filmmakers for deciding how dark they were willing to take this story and stick to their guns every step of the way, even when it might have seemed a bit too far for me, personally. It takes guts to make a movie like this, even though it might seem like making a horror comedy is a safer bet. I found myself enjoying this film on the same level I enjoyed the film Detention from a few years back, which had a similar knack for blending horror and comedy, though at a far heightened level. Oddly, Josh Hutcherson is in both of those films. I think I might just have to break down and admit that I enjoy Josh Hutcherson’s work far more than I’d maybe like to admit.

What makes a great horror comedy is how memorable it is. I can quote entire sections of Heathers. I can quote lines from Tragedy Girls too, and that’s a rarity, even so soon after having seen a film. “Maybe we should hydrate?” might be the winner and I hope you get as much enjoyment from that line as I did. So: do I love or hate Tragedy Girls? I guess I should be impressed that they made me like a character so much that the death of that character rendered these sorts of emotions in me. And should I really fault the film or filmmakers for making a thoroughly consistent and engaging horror comedy, just because I didn’t get what I wanted in one ten-second span of the film? Probably not. But it doesn’t stop me from being pissed about it. So, I highly recommend Tragedy Girls. It’s upbeat, fun, and gruesome as hell. I expect audiences to really dig this thing and would be shocked if it doesn’t become a sort of cult staple. It’s about time we go a truly grisly, dark black comedy that has the courage of its convictions.

Billy Ray Brewton

Billy Ray Brewton

Billy Ray Brewton is a writer/director of stage and screen from Alabama, California, and anywhere else that will take him. Until late-2013, he called Birmingham home, where he founded Theatre Downtown, a community theatre specializing in original and contemporary works. His original musical comedy, “Skanks in a One Horse Town”, was the subject of the documentary, “Skanks”, which premiered at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival. His debut feature horror film, “Show Yourself”, world premiered at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival and is currently on the festival circuit. He is in pre-production for his second feature, “Midnights at the Sad Captain”, filming in 2017.
Billy Ray Brewton
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  1. […] including the Illinois premiere of Tyler MacIntyre’s reinventive slasher, Tragedy Girls (covered here by our very own Billy Ray Brewton), the U.S. premiere of Ted Geoghegan’s (We Are Still Here) […]