Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
2017 has been a strong year for horror films. ANABELLE: CREATION made us excited about horror prequels (much like how OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL did the year prior). PREVENGE, IT and GERALD’S GAME all thread the needle, weaving some terrifying threads into our cinematic tapestry. Though a few of these have various shades of dark wit coursing through their veins, they’re primarily serious horror films. It’s now time for a super fun horror-comedy to take the floor – director Tyler MacIntyre’s TRAGEDY GIRLS. In a similar tonal range as HEATHERS, SCREAM and MEAN GIRLS before it, this destined-to-be cult classic is deliriously psychotic, deliciously wicked and subversive as f*ck. These gals slay – literally.
Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and bestie McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) have a burning desire to rule the Twitterverse as burgeoning crime reporters. Getting a social media following, however, is proving to be quite difficult as no one really cares. The students of Rosedale aren’t into these anti-heroines’ particular brand of hustle. So the quick-thinking pair devise a scheme: lure local serial killer Lowell (Kevin Durand) into a trap and keep him imprisoned as they carry out killings, thus assuring themselves some prime scoops, and, you guessed it, more followers. When they’re finished, they’ll pin everything on Lowell and continue on their respective career path. Only there are quite a few unexpected and uproarious funny road bumps on their path to insta-fame – like the varying degrees of difficulty with each murder, the bumbling news media’s limitations, and their puppy-dog-eyed video editor Jordan (Jack Quaid, who’ll make your heart ache) growing suspicious.
MacIntyre, along with co-scripter Chris Lee Hill (both working from Justin Olson’s original screenplay), turn genre tropes on their heads – or at least disguise them well enough so they’re neither obvious nor expected. This ain’t your momma’s typical slasher flick. The kills feel deeply satisfying as these “insufferables” – like McKayla’s James Dean-y douchebag ex Toby (Josh Hutcherson) and type-A cheer squad captain Sylvia (Savannah Jayde) – are genre archetypes the filmmakers seem to be squashing too. Totes meta! Same goes for any anticipated beats in the narrative structure. You sorta know when inevitable moments will hit (like stuff dealing with their sisterhood, and Lowell’s functionality) because you’ve seen movies and know how it all works. But the ways in which they do play out with a hefty dose of intelligence and soaring fun. It’s also just wonderful to hear a female-friendly soundtrack complement the feminist-forward tale.
The filmmakers play with societal stereotypes and social media culture like a cat batting around a ball of yarn. It’s hilarious that the gals’ plans are foiled by their kills looking like accidents. Hildebrand and Shipp really sell their friendship to the point where it feels like they aren’t just “movie friends,” but authentic ones. The way they’re written astutely speaks to how these young women relate to each other and the world – even if, yes, they are sociopaths. I mean, aren’t most teen girls?! Their chemistry with the rest of the cast also sends an electric jolt to the proceedings. The heightened pop aesthetic works well in terms of the energetic pacing, but also to emphasize the absurdity. That said, it does seem to also have a foot planted squarely in reality – one where adults don’t listen to “the kids” and where journalism’s at a crossroads.
TRAGEDY GIRLS will assuredly be a movie audiences instantly treasure, but in time, its adoration and following will undoubtedly grow. There’s no tragedy in that.
TRAGEDY GIRLS opens on October 20.