Being a student of the slasher film, and a marginally hot chick (?), I know how to avoid being a victim of a psycho-serial-killer maniac. If I want to earn the honored status of ‘final girl’ I have to respect the curfew, stay off the drugs and alcohol, and keep my legs shut. Call me an unhappy camper, but I don’t want my vacay at Crystal Lake to end with an ax to the face because of my lack of moral character. Jason, Leatherface, Michael Myers, Freddy – they all have a nose for the teenage girl with a tight sweater and a loose reputation. The formula of slasher film was built on our American puritanical ideals as a backlash to the free love movement of the late 1960s – if you are a woman who parties and sleeps around, you’re going to get what’s coming to you. And if you’re a dude that parties and sleeps around, hey, high five!
Nowadays, however, the moralizing slut-shamery of the slasher film is way passé. The social climate is slowly warming to the idea of women being people with sexual agency who don’t necessarily deserve being, say, burned alive by a dream demon. It is time to shake up the equation for a new, woker slasher film, and director/co-writer Tyler McIntyre with his new film Tragedy Girls has just nailed it.
The film starts typically enough, with two teens fogging up the windows of a classic car on a bridge in the middle of some sufficiently dark and creepy woods. Gasp! Is that a sound outside? The boy reluctantly gets out of the car to investigate. Machete facial! The chick hops out of the car to make a run for it, and the machete wielder is in hot pursuit. He seems to be gaining on her until he runs right over her… tripwire? It took setting many traps, and giving many hand jobs, but BFFs Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) have bagged themselves a bonafide serial killer, Lowell Olson Lehmon (Kevin Durand), and they offer to set him free as long as they can be his protégés. And why would two attractive, popular, fashion forward millennials want to take an internship with a cold-blooded killer? Um, likes, duh.
On the surface, Sadie and McKayla are your typical shallow teens, with their minds on ex-boyfriends, cheer squad, prom committee, and optimizing their personal brand. Their true crime fan vlog, “Tragedy Girls” has to have 100,000 followers by prom, or else who are they? Yeah, its going to be tough balancing a kill-spree with their other extra-curriculars, but at the same time it’s nice to see that they’re not suffering from that senior slump. Sadie and McKayla are played by two members of the X-Men’s new batch, Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool) and Alexandra Shipp (Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse), but they didn’t need any mutant powers to achieve this body count, just ingenuity, a little luck, and a wardrobe that can be described as murder-chic. Hildebrand and Shipp are magnetic on the screen, so devious and hilarious, that you cannot help but root for them as their dastardly plan for upworthy-ness unfolds. They sell the inherent intimacy of the high-school bestie relationship with as much sincerity as there is humor. They squabble and have their drama over whose crushes get the knife and whatnot, but ultimately they are each other’s whole world, and no number of ‘favorites’ is going to change that. They compete but the complete each other.
Even though Tragedy Girls takes a less orthodox take on the slasher formula, it is clear that director Tyler McIntyre is a horror nerd. There are plenty of name drops, film references, and visual Easter eggs for the horror film fanatic, but for me, the proof is in the kills. The kills are spectacular, bloody, splattery, and way too spoilery for me describe here – but let’s just say it gives Final Destination a run for its money.
Tragedy Girls is slick, stylish, and the soundtrack is so hip that it makes this thirty-something xennial feel irrelevant as hell, but that is not to say that it is entirely without substance. It is a satirical look at a generation that is being validated by social media. Young people will do anything for a ‘like’ these days and no one will even notice because they’re too busy working on their own selfie-angles. If Tragedy Girls is screening even remotely near you, I suggest you tag yourself at that theater because this movie deserves a proper, old-school watch on the big screen.
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