I have to wonder if in ten years — after some type of embedded telekinetic mind chip or immersive virtual reality have taken over — the use of cell phones and social media instruments like ‘Twitter’ and ‘hashtags’ featured in current films will be as ludicrous a sight as the brick-like bag phone brought out in Lethal Weapon (1987) or ham radios from Convoy (1978).
Perhaps. But in the meantime, Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls seems to be focused on the shallow here-and-now as it melds a tongue-in-cheek slasher film with the vapid theatrics of a high school comedy. If Scream (1996) is the grandfather of self-reflexive millennial horror, then Tragedy Girls is the great granddaughter. It’s not always completely successful, but it’s light on its feet and entertaining, much like Craven’s budget-busting effort.
I highly doubt either of the self appointed ‘Tragedy Girls’ in the film have seen Scream, however. McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) seem to have little time for anything else than their voracious appetite to gain “likes”, “favorites” and “retweets” within their social universe. Faces firmly planted in their phones, constantly updating and checking their true crime blog (named Tragedy Girls alas), the pair devise a scheme to capture the real-life local serial killer (Kevin Durand) and direct the mayhem in their favor.
Naturally, this plan goes awry and the best friends are forced to become serial killers themselves, constantly twisting the media attention (and their own serpentine friendship) into a literal mess of emotions and body parts. The prerequisite allusions to young love, jealousy and social stratus within their school are given lip service, but overall, MacIntyre’s film stays close to the limb-chopping and dark-hearted outlook of its peppy and ambitious pair.
Less of a social satire about the perils of modern technology than an over-the-top heave of ideas about the obsessive need to be noticed and (literally) liked, Tragedy Girls isn’t a deep meditation on much. I personally thought Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West (2017) from earlier this year perfectly encapsulated the bleakness of social media and its insidious hold on people much more chillingly. Where that film was crammed full of cringe-inducing vulnerability and pitch-perfect performances, Tragedy Girls is a bit more broad in its scope.
Shipp and Hildebrand play their roles as shape-shifting debutantes, smiling and coaxing the paternal affection of their unwitting parents one minute and then severing heads the next. They’re not the type of people one actually roots for, which lessens the cumulative effect of the film as a fairly empty but brisk ride. It is, however, sure to please people looking for a Halloween alternative, complete with unusual gore and mayhem sprinkled against moments of comedy.
Tragedy Girls opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, October 27, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars location.