There’s something so gleefully demented about the carnage inflicted in co-writer/director Tyler MacIntyre’s comedy horror, Tragedy Girls, that from the opening scene, you’re unexpectedly hooked.
Opening in the valley just in time for Halloween week, like the recent Happy Death Day, Tragedy Girls takes the slasher genre and has some unhinged fun with it, but there’s a difference. Where that previous PG-13 variation of Groundhog Day was a relatively gore-free affair, Tragedy Girls offers up some strong, bloody violence. This earns its ‘R,’ and while it’s never particularly scary – it’s not necessarily meant to be – the impact hits harder. Depending on your own sick sense of humor, the laughs are louder.
In the otherwise quiet town of Rosedale, there’s a serial killer on the loose. Four locals have died, but the sheriff’s department appears to be downplaying the murders as accidents. Clearly, they don’t want a panic, and they’re handling things their own way. But two girls aren’t buying it. Best friends forever, high-schoolers McKayla (Phoenix valley native, Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) are pretty sure that what’s occurred is the work of a killer. They should know. They’re pretty good at it themselves.
In a pre-credit scene, the teenager’s lay a trap to catch the killer, using the clueless Craig (Austin Abrams) as bait. But the girls don’t mind if the kid is sacrificed; the trap worked, they’ve got their guy, and now they’re going to use him for their own purposes. After all, the hulking masked murderer may know some things about serial killing that they’ve overlooked, and they’re willing to learn. “We’re your biggest fans, dude,” an excited McKayla tells the killer (Kevin Durand) as they thrust him up and hide him away in an abandoned water tower.
The film’s overall style and it’s black sense of humor follows immediately after the credits. Once the girls have tied the killer up, they discover that his fifth victim, Craig, the sacrificed faux boyfriend, isn’t quite dead, so without a second thought, they knife him repeatedly, then finish him off by cutting his body into pieces. “It took a lot of cats and dogs to get this right,” they tell the killer, then add as if demoting his achievements, “You’re back down to four.”
Happy to be social media darlings of their school and to create as many on-line followers as possible, the girls hatch a plan. “It’s about the story,” Sadie insists as they work things out, “It’s gotta be legend worthy.” While keeping the serial killer hidden away up in the water tower tied to a chair, they go on a murder spree, putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of their kidnapped dupe while taking exclusive pictures of their victim’s bodies and publishing them on-line under the heading of Breaking News. The sheriff (Timothy V. Murphy) has already told the girls he doesn’t take advice from teenagers, but when he has another town meeting attempting to once again downplay events, the town turns against him. Residents demand to know what he’s doing to catch a killer, what’s his progress, and why are there so many missing cats and dogs?
A real strength of the film is that unlike several teenage slasher films of the recent past, there is little reference or self-aware nods to other genre films for the sake of a laugh. With the exception of one particular murder involving a hanging chain and a carpenter’s revolving blade, where McKayla remarks, “That’s some serious Final Destination shit,” there’s little else that indicates a knowing wink. The film is confidant of its own material to stand alone and not reflect things seen before. Tragedy Girls culminates with a murderous high-school prom with deaths of Carrie proportions, but there’s no telekinesis here, just the work of some girls lacking anything even remotely resembling a conscience.
Shot widescreen in candy coated colors, there’s never a reason given as to why the girls are giddy, narcissistic, shallow, parasitic, fun loving sociopaths; there’s no history behind their after-school activities and no backstory explaining how they naturally gravitated towards each other and became friends, they simply are, and in a film like this, who really cares? It’s what they’re doing and how they’re doing it that matters. Audiences drawn to slasher flicks are not going to want to know why, they’ll just want to see McKayla and Sadie get on with it, and to find out how long they can get away with things before their slasher deeds catch up. Considering that other than cheer practice, killing is what they’re really good at, it could be for some time.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 96 Minutes Overall rating: 7 (out of 10)
Tragedy Girls will play exclusively at Harkins Valley Art from Friday, October 27