31 Screams in October, Vol. 4, #31: Tragedy Girls (2017)

Posted: October 31, 2018 in Movie Review

31. Tragedy Girls (2017)

Director: Tyler MacIntyre

Starring: Alexandra Shipp, Brianna Hildebrand, Josh Hutcherson, Craig Robinson, Kevin Durand, Jack Quaid

2017 turned out to have been an incredible year both for straight-up horror and the horror comedy. The latter category includes the fabulous “Tragedy Girls.” This movie works just as well as a critique of the level of importance we place on our Twitter feeds as it does as a reference-heavy, satirical slasher. Even as I was going through and spotting all the various Easter eggs left for horror connoisseurs to find, at no point was I able to sit back and correctly anticipate the direction of the plot. Truly, an expectation-defying thrill!

“Tragedy Girls” wastes absolutely no time in taking an abrupt left turn away from the path of predictability. In the opening scene, high schoolers Craig Thompson (Austin Abrams) and Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) are making out in a car at night in the middle of nowhere when they hear a noise, and Sadie shames Craig into checking it out. Everything including the atmosphere and the soundtrack in this scene screams early 1980s slasher. We know how this is supposed to play out. When Craig gets a machete to the face, we expect Sadie to be next. Not so fast! Although serial killer Lowell Orson Lehmann (Kevin Durand) appears to have the drop on Sadie, she has help in the form of best friend McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp), and together they subdue the madman. It turns out that Craig was just bait to lure Lehmann in, because the girls are up-and-comers themselves and would like to learn a thing or two from someone more experienced in bloodshed. When he refuses, they simply lock him up like Hannibal Lecter and decide to go on with the killing spree on their own.

Though they are careful enough to keep their murderous ways a secret from the residents of Rosedale, Sadie and McKayla run a blog called Tragedy Girls, and this provides them with either the motive or the excuse (take your pick) to do the evil things they do. Treasons they come up with for choosing their victims are as ridiculous as they are petty. For example, McKayla’s ex-boyfriend Toby (Josh Hutcherson) must die because he has more Twitter followers than the Tragedy Girls.

Not only are the girls’ reasons for killing people outrageous, but things never seem to go quite as planned. Half of the time, their victims don’t pass on right away. The ones who do die instantly wind up being recorded as tragic accidents. To avoid this “Final Destination”-like trend, Sadie and McKayla sometimes go the extra step of dismembering the corpses. They WANT the public to think there’s a serial killer on the loose and there is. There are three, counting the two of them and Lehmann once he escapes from the makeshift cage. By this time, Sadie and McKayla have managed to erode the public’s trust in the police force, angering Sheriff Welch (Timothy V. Murphy). He’s also none-too-pleased about how close that Sadie and his son, Jordan (Jack Quaid) are becoming. That all changes when Lehmann attacks the couple inside the Welch household, with Sadie turning herself into a hero overnight by saving Jordan’s life. What no one in town knows is that Sadie was only there that night to destroy McKayla’s phone, which a suspicious Jordan had stolen.

Sadie’s new public image is a tough pill for McKayla to swallow, although she’s more miffed about not getting a mention in Sadie’s big public speech. So, McKayla resolves to get back at her friend during Prom using Lehmann. During the final act, after Sadie and Jordan are voted Prom King and Queen, you’re just counting down until the eventual “Carrie” moment. It comes, yes, though not in the way you might be expecting.

I love all the little references to classic horror films. My favorite has to be the death of the Mayor (Rosalind Chao), whom Lehmann kills in a manner that evokes the most famous image from “Cannibal Holocaust.” What I wasn’t as much of a fan of was the social commentary in regards to our obsession with Twitter. Not that I didn’t appreciate what the movie had to say about it, but the mere inclusion of it served to remind me how annoying that social media can be.

I also wish that the soundtrack had been better. The music in the opening scene was great, and the music used for the scenes between McKayla and Toby are (intentionally) hilarious in their sugary sappiness. Other than that, however, the music is pretty disappointing. Had it been up to me, I’d at least have included “Sexy Sadie” by The Beatles (or at least a decent cover) due to the relevant lyrics. Hell, a few other Beatles tunes could have worked as well… especially during the Prom scene… even “Run for Your Life” after some gender swapping in the lyrics. But I also get all the reasons why not.

As important as setting the right tone was to “Tragedy Girls,” it would have meant nothing if the casting hadn’t been perfect. Taking time off from their roles within the X-Men Universe, Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead in the “Deadpool” series) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm in “X-Men: Apocalypse” and the forthcoming “Dark Phoenix”) are wonderful as Sadie and McKayla. These really feel like two girls who’ve been partners in crime since they were kids. Hildebrand is especially good, giving her character an irresistibly devilish personality to match her distinctive look. If you’re like me, and you love horror movies with memorable characters, callbacks to the classics and plot twists that subvert your expectations, “Tragedy Girls” has everything you’re looking for!

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I’m impressed by the plot idea! I’m also thinking that the girls cast as the crime duo would be excellent!

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