This article will include spoilers from THOROUGHBREDS and TRAGEDY GIRLS. There’s simply nothing to be done about it. Discussing teen girls who kill in fiction is serious business.

In the United States in 2014, 89.5% of homicide offenders were men. During roughly the same period 605 juveniles were arrested for murder. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the numbers hold consistent regardless of age. Therefore, teen boys were responsible for 541 of those murders, meaning teen girls killed 64 times. Add to that that young middle class above girls and women are the least likely to be charged with murder. This gives you a feeling for how unusual any of the leads in the films THOROUGHBREDS and TRAGEDY GIRLS’ actions are.

Thus, why we find them so fascinating. They are the rarest age group, the rarest gender, the rarest class and in the case of the three of the four, the rarest race in the rarest age group, gender, and class to be charged with murder. From a stylistic standpoint, the films could not be more different. However, when I dug deeper into both of them, I detected an interesting level of correlation. Despite all aesthetics, it seems THOROUGHBREDS and TRAGEDY GIRLS are far more related than one might expect.

Teen Girls Who Kill: Sadie and McKayla
Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp hold hands while showing off their pretty masks in TRAGEDY GIRLS. (Courtesy of Gunpowder and Sky)

Teen Girls Who Kill Have Gauzy Barely Glimpsed Inciting Events

The most visual connection the two films share come from what can be most easily labeled their first kills. In THOROUGHBREDS, this scene shows in its entirety as the film opens. While we won’t learn who is doing it immediately, what is happening is clear. A horse is being killed. We later learn that Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is the perpetrator. She characterizes it as a mercy killing. Given that she is not a vet and she chose a fairly grisly method of killing, the law disagrees with this claim.

Her crossing that line “teaches” her she has the capacity to kill. In turn, it sparks something in Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) that moves her towards the idea that she too can, first, contemplate and, later, stab someone to death. In TRAGEDY GIRLS, the incident seeps out in pieces and brief flashes.

The people involved, Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) in their younger years are clear here but what is going on remains hidden until the very end. I’ll discuss it in more detail alone, but suffice to say what we are seeing is the duo skipping away from the scene of their first crime.

Teen Girls Who Kill: Lily and Amanda
Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke debate the finer points of step-patricide in THOROUGHBREDS. (Courtesy of Focus Features)

A Pile of Lies Told By Teen Girls Who Kill

One of the immediate commonalities between the two murderous duos is the lies they tell.

Lily lies from nearly the first moment we see her. It begins with her claiming to Amanda that she is tutoring her former friend for free and did not require cajoling. Amanda, however, already knows the truth. Lily not only is getting paid, but she held out for even more money from Amanda’s mom.

As the film continues, we see repeated instances of her misleading Amanda and others. For instance, Lily repeatedly claims she graduated early from their Academy and she is working an internship. Turns out she has been expelled from the school for cheating and lost her internship as a result as well.

Amanda, by contrast, only lies once, but it is a massive one. She takes credit for the murder at the film’s end despite Lily being solely responsible. Moreover, even as she is institutionalized in a psychiatrist facilityshe maintains the lie. Sadie and McKayla are more of the Lily school of lying. They lie early and often — about kidnapping a literal slasher villain (Kevin Durand), their crime obsession, their desires to be “normal.” Nearly everything said to someone besides each other is a lie.

Teen Girls Who Kill: Tim (But not me)
Anton Yelchin has been flummoxed in a scene from THOROUGHBREDS. (Courtesy of Focus Pictures)

The Motivations of Teen Girls Who Kill

The biggest whoppers, though, they reserve for explaining their homicidal ideations. McKayla and Sadie cover their motives up with a kind of performative ambition. They only seize the serial killer Lowell to learn about what drives a killer. They continue his crime spree not out of desire but because they need the police and the people to believe Lowell’s crimes were murders, not accidents or runaways. It is all in the name of promoting their brand and securing their futures. Dark reasons for sure, but limited and, seemingly, only necessitating short-term murdering,

However, as the film nears its bloodbath climax, we learn the truth. The girls accidentally killed Jordan’s (Jack Quaid) mom and get a taste for it. Their murdering is not to secure them true crime cred, it is but a prelude to the massacre of their entire class at prom. Lily initially denies any desire to kill her stepfather (Paul Sparks) at all, but Amanda immediately sees through that.

Then, Lily tries to obfuscate her desire through justifications. Stepdad Mark abuses her. This quickly becomes revealed as false. Then it becomes Mark stands between her and her academic future, a reason that holds for much longer. Still, in the end, the truth is clear. Lily wants Mark dead because she does. She hates him for all he represents and needs no greater reason than that.

Amanda maintains throughout that she has no emotions and therefore, effectively, does not care about killing someone. Her motivation, essentially, is that she has no motivation NOT to end another life. Any viewer can see the truth though. Amanda cares for Lily with never stated but clear devotion. Their “friendship” — regardless of how strange it is — is why she is willing to end Mark.

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The Patsies Of Teen Girls Who Kill

In both cases, the duos recruit boys to help them in their murderous goals. Amanda and Lily turn to local dropout and drug lord with delusions of grandeur Tim (Anton Yelchin). They seek to make him their hitman, allowing them to be miles away from the crime. The reasoning goes that he is too random to be a suspect and their ironclad alibis will put them above suspicion.

Jordan plays the part for Sadie and McKayla but at a much farther distance. They employ him to edit their videos, lending credence to their endeavor. Moreover, his interest in Sadie makes him an easy mark willing to ignore troubling signs of her behavior and make-up excuses for her. Finally, as the son of the sheriff, his connection to them makes them an annoyance to the sheriff but never true suspects.

In both cases, the girls ultimately get let down by their patsies. Tim gets spooked, never follows through with the plan, and effectively disappears for months. Jordan, on the other hand, nearly gets McKayla arrested and drives a wedge between the murder queens by offering Sadie a chance at normalcy. Both boys end up punished as a result. Tim, confronted with his lack of killer instinct, gives up his dream of living larger than life and becomes a valet. Moreover, he must witness Lily strut about, free, knowing what she did but having no recourse.

Jordan gets it worse though. In incredibly short order, he finds out his girlfriend bears responsibility for the death of his mom, does not really love him, and then ends up dead, via hanging, by her hand. It does not pay to be a patsy for Teen Girls Who Kill.

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Sexuality & Teen Girls Who Kill

THOROUGHBREDS is chilly nearly to the point of sterility. Despite the murder of passion that becomes the film’s central quest, the film appears as placid and detached on the surface as Amanda herself. Mark likes Lily’s mom Cynthia (Francie Swift) tan but in their interactions, there is no sign of erotic heat.

The girls, similarly, seem to have no lust in them. Lily wanders through a party of her peers and never even attempts to flirt with anyone, be they boy or girl. Amanda does not even interact with anyone besides Lily, Tim, Mark or her own mother Karen (Kaili Vernoff). There are one or two fleeting moments that might hint at some kind of Sapphic attraction between Amanda and Lily, but they are so gossamer it may simply be over examination.

TRAGEDY GIRLS, by contrast, opens with a sweaty makeout scene between Sadie and Craig (Austin Abrams). With its far more overheated style featuring deeper shadows and brighter pops of color, it seems that GIRLS will be a far more hot-blooded endeavor. It is a ruse, however. Sadie has used Craig’s hormones to lure him into an urban legends situation so she and McKayla can seize Lowell for their education.

And so it goes throughout. Sadie appears demonstrably bored as Jordan kisses her neck. McKayla only makes out with the dead body of an ex. These Teen Girls Who Kill also seemed divorced from their sexuality. Again, the only true intimacy they experience seems to be between themselves although it seems entirely emotional, with not the slightest indication of same sex longing.

Teen Girls Who Kill: Jordan
Jack Quaid expresses confusion in a scene from TRAGEDY GIRLS (Courtesy of Gunpowder and Sky)

Teen Girls Who Kill Also Betray

Lowell, at one point, tells McKayla that Sadie wants “it” — fame, fortune, control — more than her. Thus, inevitably, Sadie will betray her. While he is trying to split them, his warning proves precedent. Sadie does betray her best friend. It begins when she becomes a town hero. Later it is when Sadie seems to give up on murder in favor of a life more ordinary.

While he may seem strange, remember that McKayla and Sadie are Teen Girls Who Kill. For them, it is like you and your best friend promising to travel around playing gigs for a year between high school and college just to see if the band can make it. Then, a week before graduation you find out said best friend is actually going to go to Brown University in the fall instead.

Lily’s betrayal of Amanda would be judged by most to be more significant even as the intended victim seemed largely unconcerned. Lily claims to no longer want to kill her stepdad while planning to drug Amanda. As Amanda sleeps, Lily intends to cover her friend in the physical evidence and call the police. With Amanda’s reputation, the killing of the horse, and the physical evidence, no one will believe her protests of having no memory of the crime.

Both sets of Teen Girls Who Kill attempt to rescind their betrayal near the film’s climax. McKayla gladly takes her friend back and the two proceed to murder Lowell, Jordan, and then go CARRIE without the psychic powers on the rest of their class. When Lily hesitates, though, Amanda still downs the drugged drink and takes the rap. To her, not allowing the frame job would be the bigger betrayal of their bond than Lily attempting it in the first place.

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Teen Girls Who Kill Do Not Commit Equally

In both dyads, there is one member who presents, initially, as more comfortable or more committed to engaging in murder. In TRAGEDY GIRLS, Sadie presents as the leader and more invested party with McKayla being just more along for the ride. On the dynamic in THOROUGHBREDS is different as Lily always presents as being in the superior position. However, the more willing and more comfortable with killing part is clearly Amanda.

In both films, though, the dynamics change towards the end of the films’ running times. McKayla progressively becomes more dedicated to their plan. This reaches a disturbing crescendo as she recruits Lowell to either force Sadie to recommit or, seemingly, kill her friend. While Sadie verbally committed stronger, clearly McKayla had come to define her life by it.

As outlined above, in the end, Lily becomes the murderer, not Amanda. While Amanda’s lack of morality made her not have to overcome the usual blocks, she was also significantly less committed to the idea of killing. Lily, on the other hand, feared legal reprisal. Despite that, she truly wanted Mark dead. Her morality may be more present than Amanda’s but only by a slight margin. Therefore, the girl we’ve seen as cold-blooded throughout the film is simply indifferent to life and death. It is Lily who has that homicidal desire.

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A Unified Theory of Teen Girls Who Kill

In pop culture, adult women who kill tend to fall into predictable categories: victims who fight back, second in commands who are deadlier than the men around them, or highly sexualized seductresses.

When it comes to Teen Girls Who Kill, on the other hand, it appears we have no such template. The high school students of JAWBREAKERS seem distant from the Heathers of HEATHERS who differ greatly from the volatile Sapphic duo of WILD THINGS. These two films, however, may indicate a burgeoning template.

A duo of girls, with at least one driven by some combination of anger and ambition, isolated from others but not each other, and able to generally operate nearly in full view because of others’ tendencies to underestimate. They use men but seem sexually disinterested in them. Finally, despite their dynamics appearing stable they actually bubble with volatility and a tendency towards betrayal and non-static roles.

This reflects a new kind of male fear of the female. In the past, the fear centered more on the threat of female sexuality as a tool to ensnare men. Now, the fear is women who have no interest in sex yet still control the men around them. Gone are the days of mean girl cadres or lone wolf threats, replaced by this image of girls so close that they are the only two that have each others’ secrets. Lastly, they are smarter and more ambitious than their male peers, another reason they see the boys around them as pawns instead of objects of desire or intimidation.

In this way, actually, the Teen Girls Who Kill of TRAGEDY GIRLS and THOROUGHBREDS do connect deeply with their predecessors in HEATHERS, WILD THINGS, and more. Fear of Teen Girls Who Kill, it seems, is, regardless of the era, fear of the feminine.

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