The opening scene in Tragedy Girls seems an unabashed patchwork of ‘80s horror. Parked on a lonely stretch of road at night two lovers hear something strange outside the car. The girl suggests to the guy that he go and check it out. In any generic horror setting the guy—needing to assert his masculinity—leaves the car without question, sealing his fate. In Tragedy Girls we catch a rare glimpse into common sense when the guy (for once) shows some reluctance. The rest of the scene ingeniously plays out like a horror film stuck in neutral, the guy—though not until he is viciously emasculated—finally agrees to step out of the car to meet a predictably grisly fate.
This obvious paint-by-numbers horror template, replete in clichés and stock characters, is entirely self-referential (relying on audience foreknowledge of the genre). Admittedly, the whole trend of meta in Hollywood cinema has become a bit tiring—evident from Deadpool’s attempts to upend the Marvel formula by proactively pointing its own genericism. Surprise, surprise, it turns out being informed about your own hackneyed, threadbare triteness doesn’t make your film any less hackneyed, threadbare or trite. With that said Tragedy Girls—which stars (coincidentally?) Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead) and Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse’s Storm)—is a genuine delight. Indulging shamelessly in sheer farce, and even some stinging satire, Tragedy Girls’ metaphysical in-joke proves altogether stupidly and incisively funny.
The story of Tragedy Girls is deceptively simple, two girls kidnap a psychotic killer and—in his absence—begin to murder their classmates one by one in a desperate attempt to score more social media followers. The whole ludicrous premise starts by turning its two potential scream queens into typical B film slashers. In its uniquely detached manner the film neither sympathizes or maligns the two-girl killing spree—for all the depravity the film relishes in, Tragedy Girls doesn’t invite immorality so much as it characterizes it.
The general attitude of the film, even as it captures all the classic definitions of retro slasher flicks, is fixed firmly in the present day. Its peculiar blend of New Media critique and ‘80s horror parody invoke a concerning similarity in both avenues—the immorality media culture pitted in one of popular culture’s most pervasive moral vaccums: the 1980s teen slasher. To my surprise, Tragedy Girls’ exploration into modern culture’s decadence proves remarkably productive even when paired with the year’s most perversely enjoyable bloodbaths. But should it really surprise anyone? The implications about the current state of online culture in the film is disturbing, perhaps even a bit hyperbolic, but what better than a B movie cheapie to spell out the ugliness of social media in both the genre and the social platform’s gruesome, unforgiving terms?
Tragedy Girls can’t be described as a perfect film—the third act somewhat lags and in parts becomes too obnoxiously self-aware—but it stands an exceptional sample of what pure satire looks like in the Information Age. It unrolls two sharp comic performances from its two leads, Hildebrand is always on the ball, but Shipp is a revelation, showing craft and savvy, her beats and rhythms are always convincingly funny even if the film isn’t. Their characters seem to adopt a dim view of the world, where everything is disposable, where self-image can be warped with just under 140 characters on Twitter, but Tragedy Girls never accepts a passive stance, instead its sarcasm and lampoonery is reflective, and god knows the world we live in today needs a look in the mirror—even if it’s of the funhouse variety.