If the characters from Mean Girls found themselves participating in The Purge, it might look something like Tragedy Girls. This impressively ballsy, stingingly funny horror-comedy grabs you by the throat in such a way that you never want it to let go. And it doesn’t. The hazard of a story like this is that it might go soft at the end. Tragedy Girls never does. It stays true to its vision right down to the final second. That marks it as a genuine you’ve-gotta-see-it genre film.
Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse) play Sadie and McKayla, two high school besties who are obsessed with raising their social media profiles. In the opening scene, they kidnap Lowell (Kevin Durand), a lunatic who’s been killing people around their small town. The girls beg their captive for help in learning the ways of murder. When he refuses, they go it on their own, then blog memorials to the deceased or complain about local law enforcement’s alleged lack of community protection. Their accompanying videos and tweets do indeed garner them significant attention. The only hitch is Sadie’s would-be suitor, Jordan (Jack Quaid), who suspects something fishy is going on.
There have been other movies about characters doing extreme things in an effort to go viral. Tragedy Girls is different. Sadie and McKayla aren’t just looking for fame; they want people to see the world through their eyes. They want to be the commentators, to be the ones others turn to for perspective and insight. It’s a crucial difference that sets the movie apart, while also adding significant depth to the theme of how narcissism can become dangerous.
Humor springs from the contrast between social media vapidity and the seriousness of what the girls do. To them, only things that happen online have any actual consequence. This mindset allows them to carry out a series of gruesome (and, from a cinematic perspective, ingeniously designed) murders without blinking an eye. When one attempt to kill a classmate ends up taking some unexpectedly gory turns, one of the girls jokes that the death was akin to something in a Final Destination movie. Moments like that, scattered throughout the picture, help create the idea that these characters lack real-world insight, seeing things only through a lens of pop culture, Twitter, and Instagram.
Hildebrand and Shipp give magnificent performances, capturing the tighter-than-tight bond between Sadie and McKayla, while also perfectly conveying the girls’ warped sense of entitlement. Even as they callously dispatch of other people, we come to care about them. The murderous aspect of Tragedy Girls is exaggerated for comic effect, but the friendship feels very, very real. Both actresses give star-making turns. Craig Robinson (The Office) also does strong work in a small supporting role as a firefighter who wants to lead the charge to find whoever is doing all the town’s bloodletting.
Energetically directed by Tyler MacIntyre, Tragedy Girls is as provocative as it is funny. We live in a world where you can literally make a living just by posting videos to YouTube, and where being in the right place at the right time with a cell phone can result in insta-celebrity. What will this do to the current generation and future ones? Will they live only for the virtual world and sacrifice the real one? Can they accept that their thoughts and ideas still have value, even if the whole world isn’t paying attention to them? Tragedy Girls, in a bit of horror even more disturbing than any of the onscreen murders, suggests that too many young people are already on the wrong path.
If you’re a fan of horror-comedies, do not miss this ambitious, massively entertaining movie.
(*** 1/2 out of four)
For more information on the Fantasia International Film Festival and the titles screening this year, please visit their official website.
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