Tragedy Girls is a 2017 horror comedy directed by Tyler MacIntyre, who co-wrote the movie with Chris Lee Hill. It follows the creative and warped exploits of two high school seniors in small town America with a little bit of senioritis and a heaping helping of sociopathic tendencies. Being a horror comedy, this is a film that lives and dies by how well it blends its laughs with its scares. To find out just how well it gets the job done, read on past the trailer for our spoiler heavy review. If you’d prefer a just as spoilery but less texty version of our take on the film, then hit that podcast button and give our review a listen instead. We give you options. Vote us for Class President.
Reviewed by: Jake
Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are total BFFs. They do everything together that you’d expect for some popular, pretty American high school girls. They head up the student council in planning prom, they’re on the cheerleading squad, and they run a true crime social media account that reports on the the unfortunate demises of various locals. You know. Typical high school stuff…
Like most Gen Z’ers, Sadie and McKayla are totally glued to their phones and are constantly blogging, tweeting and insta’ing (I’m too old for this shit). Also like most Gen Z’ers, they’re total narcissistic scumbags with an insatiable craving for the limelight and growth in their base of followers. Unlike most Gen Z’ers though, these girls have a fully fleshed out strategy for how to improve their fledgling media empire. We’re talking deep, B-school level strategy here. A number of horizons are accounted for. I’m sure they had a matrix planning session and did some SWOT analyses at some point. To ensure the wallow-porn well not runneth dry, they take matters into their own hands. They locate the local serial killer, Lowell Orson Lehmann (Kevin Durand), and capture him with the goal of teaming up so they can improve the volume and quality of documentation around local killings. Because he’s a psychopathic serial killer, he refuses, so they keep him hostage and simply begin killing people themselves. We call that removing the middleman, kids.
Sadie and McKayla strategically choose their targets. They kill off the competition, motorcycle riding heartthrob, Toby (Josh Hutcherson) to ensure they have the largest active account and monopolize the content. They ixnay the annoying underclassman cheer captain, Syl (Savannah Jade), and they even take out firefighting hero, Big Al (Craig Robinson) because he threatens to interfere and hunt down the killer on the loose.
As is required in every tale of high school friendship, the waters get choppy when their video editing friend, Jordan (Jack Quaid) begins to suspect McKayla is behind the killings. Meanwhile, Lehmann escapes and convinces McKayla that Sadie isn’t a real friend and is simply using her. The two have a falling out before prom, leaving Sadie to attend with Jordan while McKayla and Lehmann team up to continue killing townspeople. McKayla is able to coax Sadie away from the dance where the two get into a confrontation. Lehmann attempts to stab Sadie but McKayla shoots and kills him. With newfound vigor, the two make up and reveal to Jordan that they had killed his mother when they were young children, implying that they have actually been killing for the past decade. They then hang Jordan and light the gym on fire using the props they had ordered for prom as kindling, killing basically the entire class.
As the sole survivors the two girls become media darlings, and use the opportunity to parlay their account into further stardom. Lehmann is blamed for the killings and Sadie and McKayla head off to college with full-blown star potential and a brand new arena to play their sick fucking game in.
What the Movie Does Right
Horror comedies are often fairly meta, with many references to the classics, tongue-in-cheek self awareness of genre tropes, and even some clever subversions of genre norms along the way. Tragedy Girls has some of that, for sure, but it is also successful as a comedy itself. This is a funny movie with laugh out loud moments sprinkled throughout. At times it feels like Superbad for the horror fan. It’s fairly common for the humor in these kinds of movies to be the scenario itself and the clever awareness of our expectations for how the proceedings will play out. Tragedy Girls is more humorous in a traditional sense with extremely well written characters doing their worst throughout the film. Hildebrand and Shipp both turn in excellent performances and are charming to the point that you easily root for them despite their despicable nature.
All that being said, this is still a horror movie. The ultra-squeamish probably won’t be laughing when a head is cleaved in half with a machete or a body is dismembered by disturbingly giddy girls. In particular, the final scene of the movie really nails the horror that lies at the core of the story. When Sadie and McKayla trap the entire school in the gym and burn them alive, there is a tonal shift that takes things from funny to disturbing very quickly. It was an impactful moment and a quick reminder that the movie is actually really dark, despite the fact that you’ve been spewing beer on the screen from the jokes for the past 90 minutes.
Finally, a quick shout out is required for the licensed soundtrack in this one. There are a ton of popular, catchy tracks used in the film and they fit the overall mood developed extremely well. Watching the girls texting each other about their plans for the next murder in a chat-bubble-filled, pastel-colored haze while a Cults song joyfully belts in the background is a delightfully synergistic experience.
What the Movie Does Wrong
There are some highly unbelievable aspects of the spree that is Sadie and McKayla’s life. For example, how the fuck is McKayla able to hit seemingly everyone’s phone with a text/photo/video seemingly at will? Wouldn’t that be traceable? Wouldn’t there at least be an attempt to track it? Wouldn’t the authorities become more involved than they do? The girls don’t seem overwhelmingly cunning or capable of covering their tracks, and they run a goddamn blog and social media channel about the exact thing that would be investigated. They would have caught some significant heat.
I was able to suspend my disbelief and focus on the comedy for the most part, but it’s something that will likely pop back into your mind a few times over the course of the film. This is never more true than with Lehmann’s situation. For a mountain of a man (they called him “Tree” in Mystery Alaska, ok?), he was not gonna be held captive to a desk chair with some twine like that for very long. Did he just want to hang out?
Another nit that I think needs to be pointed out are the masks from the final sequence of the film. They weren’t used for anything. The only real reason for them would have been to hide their identities for a big set piece and daring escape, but McKayla really only puts it to use when she first confronts Sadie. Yeah, they look cool but there’s no reason for it. They should have at least made an appearance in auditorium while donning them and then burned that mother down. Simple solution. Why the movie didn’t go for it is beyond me (unless it’s on the cutting room floor. Which is highly possible).
Story: 6 - This story isn’t going to blow you away with its novelty. Some messed up girls commit murders and use society & social media’s fascination with the macabre to their own benefit while using another serial killer to be their fall-man.
World-Building / Immersion: 6 - This is where I’m going to pot the comedic prowess of this movie. There are some legitimately funny scenes in this movie and it uses humor to put you on the side of the two main girls, despite you knowing you shouldn’t want to be in their camp. The acting is extremely solid and the set pieces are entertaining enough that you’ll find yourself interested despite some quite notable immersion breakers in the mix.
Scare-Factor: 2 - If you really hate gore, this will probably get to you a bit, but this is primarily a comedy with a dark/horror-related story.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6 - Some of the effects look a little janky (like Hutcherson’s broken arm), but the movie usually steers clear of any particularly sticky situations by not showing too much. Bonus point for the licensed soundtrack.
Overall: 6.5 - I enjoyed this movie more than my scores would entail on their own. I used the word before, so I’ll use it again; there’s some synergy going on here. It wouldn’t be my first recommendation for someone in the horror genre, but if we were talking horror comedies, it’s one of the more enjoyable entries of the past couple years.