Tyler MacIntyre’s fourth feature Tragedy Girls is being touted as a mixture of Clueless and Scream (high praise indeed) but the director sees it more as a spiritual successor to cult teen movie Jawbreaker. The comparison is notable. The flick sees a couple of gal pals, played by Deadpool‘s Brianna Hildebrand and X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp, kidnap a serial killer in order to learn how best to kill people so they can gain more followers on their social media accounts. Jawbreaker for millennials, if you will.
A killer cold open (no pun intended) kicks things off at a sprightly, giddy pace that doesn’t let up for the ensuing 90 minutes. Much like a teenager talking (these two, in particular), the movie doesn’t stop to allow us catch our breath. A succession of pop culture references and bizarro teen speak fly past in a flurry of emoji hearts as Hildebrand’s Sadie and Shipp’s McKayla embark on a Mean Girls‘-esque path of destruction in their small, suburban town.
The two leading ladies are brilliantly cast in their roles, each on the cusp of superstardom and willing to throw caution to the wind, but an ensemble cast of supporting characters is well-employed also. Exec producer Craig Robinson is Big Al, the town hottie whom the girls must get rid of lest he steal the attention away from them for too long. Jack Quaid (son of Dennis) complements his hilariously offbeat Logan Lucky turn with a more grounded take on a lovelorn, surely doomed high school student.
The Strain‘s Kevin Durand does good work as the captured serial killer who’s clearly bitten off more than he can chew with these two lunatics (possibly a comment on underestimating the power of young women in general?). But special attention must be paid to Josh Hutcherson, cast ruthlessly against type as a smooth ladykiller (LOL) bad boy who quite literally wears a leather jacket, speaks in a low hum and rides a motorbike.
Hutcherson’s inclusion provides a connection to Detention, Joseph Kahn’s hugely underrated slasher that is set in a similarly madcap high school environment, captured almost entirely in primary colours and would actually make a fine double bill/form part of a Josh Hutcherson appreciation night with this. Tragedy Girls will also play well with Riverdale fans looking for something a bit meatier to chew on between seasons given how capital-D dramatic virtually every kid onscreen is.
The script, co-written by MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill (with whom he also wrote Patchwork) from an original screenplay by Justin Olson, crackles with hilariously on-the-nose teenage humour and references. “I would rather die than not check in” snaps one character without a shred of irony. Elsewhere, the girls’ accessorise their favourite murder weapon with girly pink ribbons, like it’s a phone case or something.
Tragedy Girls‘ central concept follows on from Scream 4‘s razor-sharp speech about what it takes to be famous these days (note: nothing). Back in 2011, it felt prescient. Nowadays, with President Cheeto in power, the idea of two teenage girls murdering people to get more Twitter faves seems totally reasonable, not to mention plausible (think of the young woman who tried to profit off having sex with her dog, or another who chomped on her own used tampon).
It’s worth noting, too, that the girls in question aren’t social outcasts. Not even close. They’re popular, cheerleaders even, with a reasonable amount of control over the school. The problem is they don’t really care about anything but each other, which leads to some spot-on moments of jealousy that emphasise how well-drawn and executed the high school cliches are here. This may not have been written by an actual teenager, but it sure feels like it was.
Underneath it all, though, Tragedy Girls contains a strong message about female friendship, and about staying true to oneself (even if that means being a serial killer). Hildebrand and Shipp have an irresistible natural chemistry suggesting they’ve been friends for years, which makes them easy to root for even when they’re at their most hideous. They may be committing some unthinkable deeds, but we also still kind of want to be part of their crew.
Tragedy Girls is gory, hilariously funny and, at times, headache-inducingly bright, like a teenage girl ranting on YouTube for an hour and a half (except much more fun than that description implies). It’s brash, colourful and its murder weapons are always super cute. But it’s also just a damn good slasher with a nicely nasty twist and, considering it’s been a while since we’ve had one of those, there’s even more reason to celebrate. A super-dark ending is well-judged but this still a joyous, riotous blast all round. Strap in and enjoy.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): Tyler MacIntyre
Writer(s): Tyler MacIntyre, Chris Lee Hill, Justin Olson
Stars: Brianna Hildebrand, Alexandra Shipp, Craig Robinson, Josh Hutcherson
Studio/ Production Co: It’s The Comeback Kids
Length: 90 minutes