Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Cast: Brianna Hildebrand, Alexandra Shipp, Jack Quaid, Timothy V. Murphy, Kevin Durand, Nicky Whelan, Savannah Jayde, Craig Robinson, Josh Hutcherson
MPAA Rating: (for strong bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references)
Running Time: 1:38
Release Date: 10/20/17 (limited); 11/10/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 9, 2017
Tragedy Girls likes its main duo too much. They're a pair of high school seniors—"best friends forever" who run a blog about unsolved murders in sleepy towns like the one where they live. Their fascination with serial and spree killers isn't simply a matter of natural, morbid curiosity, though. By the end of the movie's first sequence, the girls have lured a teenage boy to what appears to be his inevitable murder, captured a killer who's responsible for four other murders, and, upon realizing that the killer didn't finish the job, suffocated the young man, dismembered his body, and dumped it in a solution of lye and other chemicals.
It would be easy enough to be morally outraged by this, but there's really no point. The movie, co-written and directed by Tyler MacIntyre, establishes a world that exists in a sort of moral vacuum. We know from the start that none of this is "real," in the sense that these characters will behave and react in a way that seems like natural human behavior.
The opening scene, in which Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) try to catch the killer's attention with the bait of a teenage make-out session in a car, plays like a horror movie. It's a dark night. The car windows are foggy. There are sounds coming from outside. The setting is an old bridge in the middle of nowhere, where it looks as if no one would go—unless they want to end up in a situation like this.
We're not supposed to take it seriously in a way that would engender moral outrage, so there's none to be had. The setup—of teenage girls looking to become the sorts of killers who would be featured in a horror movie—is a dark goof. To be upset that the main characters are cold-blooded sociopaths would be closing oneself off from the movie's intentions. Besides, closing off oneself from them also would mean missing the real problems with the protagonists and the movie itself.
The most prominent issue with Sadie and McKayla is that they're hollow and more than a bit irritating. The screenplay by MacIntyre and Chris Lee Hill (based on another, unproduced one by Justin Olson) eventually suggests that the main duo is emblematic of a larger issue—namely an addiction to the online world and a warped sense of self that can be created from that world. When they aren't figuring out an elaborate way to kill someone, Sadie and McKayla are chasing likes and favorites on social networking sites with reports and speculation about the recent murders in their hometown.
The critique of the pair's attitude comes from one of their teachers (played by Nicky Whelan), who—like every figure of authority here—is seen as an obstacle to Sadie and McKayla's goals. Their goals, again, include becoming anonymous murderers, whose killings gain them fame and whose cleverness prevents them from being caught. That's why they captured Lowell (Kevin Durand), the killer from the opening scene: They hope he'll teach them how to get away with murder. When people—such as Toby (Josh Hutcherson), who runs a blog similar to the girls', and Big Al (Craig Robinson), the local fire marshal who wants a door-to-door hunt for the killer running loose—get in their way, it's only a matter of time before Sadie and McKayla devise and execute a grisly killing.
Obviously, there's something wrong with the two, and we don't need a lecture about the hazards of extensive online activity to comprehend that idea. The movie wants to have it both ways: It wants to condemn the girls for what it sees as the root cause of their desire for fame (A late revelation suggests that social media has little to do with their problems, though), and it also wants to reap the bloody, often gruesome rewards of their psychopathy. MacIntyre plays these characters and their deeds for laughs, from the easy jokes of slang and cultural references within the dialogue to the groan-based humor of the movie's overkill-happy murders.
To call it satire is almost pointless, because of course it is. What the movie is actually attempting to satirize, though, is harder to pin down, since its sympathy for Sadie and McKayla actually grows as the story reaches its inevitably prom-set climax. We don't want to and probably shouldn't like these characters, but Tragedy Girls goes against both of those instincts for reasons that don't add up to much.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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