TRAGEDY GIRLS (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

There have been a lot of critics talking about TRAGEDY GIRLS, claiming it’s the X film of this generation. Allow me to be wholly unoriginal and add my own comparison to the pile. TRAGEDY GIRLS does for millennials what AMERICAN PSYCHO did for yuppies. It’s a scathing character study featuring a pair of wildly endearing and equally terrifying leads. It also might be the funniest horror film since SHAUN OF THE DEAD.

Sadie (Brianna Cunningham) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are the Tragedy Girls: a pair of serial killer obsessed teenagers who dedicate as much time plotting their own killing spree as they do their high school prom. The Tragedy Girls would typically be the first ones on the chopping block of a typical horror film. The film plays with this during an opening scene mimicking any number of horror films from the 80s. Lowell, a hulking Jason Vorhees-esque killer (Kevin Durand, one of many escalating “hey it’s that guy!” cameos in the film) stalks Sadie only for the tables to suddenly turn.

The girls capture the would-be horror villain in order to learn how to become killers themselves. Lowell is less than cooperative. The Tragedy Girls decide to commit murders and pin the blame on Lowell when all is said and done. As a bonus, they have plan to use their knowledge of the murders to boost their social media premise. Think of a way less responsible version of the scam Peter Parker was pulling on the Daily Bugle for decades.

The film has a gleeful self-aware nature like SCREAM (the film plays in parts like SCREAM from the POV of the Ghostface killers). However, director Tyler MacIntyre refuses to sacrifice the gore in exchange for scares. The film has some truly gruesome moments balanced with an uproarious tone. A gag involving dismemberment and an oblivious janitor had the audience howling. 

TRAGEDY GIRLS could easily have been a tonal disaster. MacIntyre boldly makes no attempt to make the Tragedy Girls likable, so it’s a good thing he cast a pair of actors who are so damn likable. Cunningham (DEADPOOL) has weaponized the sardonic wit she showed as Nega Sonic Teenage Warhead. But beneath Sadie’s veneer of cynicism lies a surprising sweetness. She’s a punk with a heart of gold. When we first see her enter her trailer park home, you brace yourself for an abusive relationship to justify her borderline sociopathic behavior. Instead, her relationship with her single dad (Keith Hudson who makes amazing comedic use of his short bursts of screen time) is tender and caring.

Shipp (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE) shows astounding comedic range as McKayla (proving one of the only things the X-MEN movies are good at is wasting the talents of actresses playing Storm). Shipp’s line delivery slays and her physical comedy chops are pitch perfect. She’s a delightfully unhinged screwball and her chemistry with Cunningham is effortless.

Part of what makes these two characters so compelling is their chipper teenage demeanor. The girls aren’t sullen goths; they’re Twitter/Instagram celebrity wannabes with impeccable fashion sense. Their version of the AMERICAN PSYCHO business card is the never ending quest for likes and followers.

In spite of this, you can’t help but feel some level of emotional investment to these girls and their bond. Maybe all Patrick Bateman needed was a friend? Their codependency seems destructive, but they’re the only ones capable of truly understanding each other’s wants and desires. The film also smartly satirizes internet culture without feeling like it was written by someone horribly out of touch. MacIntyre understands that it’s not technology that warps us; technology only enables our base instincts. It doesn’t ruin people, it only frees the horrible parts of ourselves that we try to keep locked away.

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The film’s first act is so front loaded with great humor that the plot loses a bit of its momentum. Watching the girls try to avoid the suspicions of sheriff Blane Welch (Timothy V. Murphy) and his son Jordan (Jack Quaid) isn’t as effortlessly fun as watching them slapstick murder their way through victim after hapless victim. Fortunately, the stellar lead performances and some intriguing third act revelations give the film the propulsion to rocket it toward the disturbing finale.

For all of its humor, TRAGEDY GIRLS pulls no punches with its ending. It ultimately cements itself as a horror film through and through. Perhaps what makes TRAGEDY GIRLS so unsettling is the way we revel in the murderous triumph of the girls. There’s a part of us that cackles with glee as they eviscerate those who commit even the smallest transgressions against them.

We condone them with our attention and become complicit in their actions. Watching the film makes us another like or follow. In our digital world we praise performative acts of solidarity and bravery with no real knowledge of their authenticity. TRAGEDY GIRLS will make you laugh, but it will also leave you wondering who is really behind those pristine digital masks we follow online.

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