Parked on Sweetheart Bridge, on a misty night in the quiet midwestern town of Rosedale, teens Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and Craig (Austin Abrams) are making out in the back of a parked red convertible. This opening scene from Tyler (Patchwork) MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls is so archetypal that it practically writes itself. Indeed, when a sound is heard outside, you know the score. So does Craig, who is reluctant to go out and check what it is until Sadie questions his manhood. Craig should have stuck with his initial reservations – for once outside the car his face is macheted by a masked giant, who then chases the screaming Sadie until he runs straight into a tripwire.
Brutal serial killer Lowell (Kevin Durand) has, along with the viewer, been tricked and trapped by Sadie and her best friend McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) – high school seniors and aspiring mass murderers who want to learn from the best, go on a “legend-worthy’ killing spree of their own, and then pin all the crimes on their captive.
Tragedy Girls falls into the tradition of sociopathic teen murder comedies like Heathers (1988) and Detention (2011) – and even features Detention‘s Josh Hutcherson as hilariously too-cool-for-school biker boy (and early casualty) Toby. The film features many stock elements of a classic teen movie – cheerleader squad, clique-y in-fighting, class scenes, a prom – while also coming with a bloody and rapidly rising body count. Yet text-happy, selfie-addicted Sadie and McKayla are as obsessed with increasing the number of their online followers as of their victims, as Tragedy Girls – named for the youtube channel, Twitter account and tumblr blog that the pair has dedicated to gossip about the local deaths – focuses on the emotional detachment, superficiality and capacity for self-invention (that most adolescent of themes) afforded by social media.
Indeed, everything here is knowingly mediated, as the girls pick up tips on body disposal from Breaking Bad, and expressly compare their own handiwork to everything from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, or more probably the 2003 remake) to Final Destination (2000) – yet they belong to a generation that has, despite the baroque nature of their murder set-pieces, never even heard of Dario Argento. They are young, though, and more than willing to learn.
“You don’t need any new friends,” McKayla tells Sadie, “You have me.” Indeed the film’s key theme is the strength of the girls’ friendship – never once threatened by the marked differences in their racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, barely dented by Lowell’s attempts to drive a wedge (or any other sharp-edged tool) between them, and challenged only by Sadie’s growing attraction to the sheriff’s son Jordan (Jack Quaid) and to the more normal, wholesome lifestyle that he embodies. That we want their friendship to win out and overcome these odds, even at the cost of the community’s heart, soul and other internal organs, is testament to MacIntyre’s mastery of dark humour and knowing irony. The more tragedy these girls create for others, the more the viewer just wants to click like.
Tragedy Girls was seen and reviewed at Fantasia International Film Festival. For more information, visit the website.