Dead of Night: Hull Horror Film Festival (27 – 31 October 2017)
Tragedy Girls: Tyler MacIntyre’s Dark and Twisted High School Slasher Comedy.
US: 2017/ 90 min/ Cert. 18
Director: Tyler MacIntyre
Cast: Alexandra Shipp, Brianna Hildebrand, Timothy Murphy, Jack Quaid, Kevin Durand, Nicky Whelan.
Tyler MacIntyre’s second directorial feature, Tragedy Girls, which opened Hull’s Dead of Night horror festival, is a riotous slasher-comedy for the internet era. With a serial killer on the loose in the small mid-western town of Rosedale, two students at Rosedale High, McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) seize the opportunity to increase the popularity of their online video blog, the titular Tragedy Girls, which focuses on real-life tragedies. The girls capture the killer, Lowell (Kevin Durand), attempting to coerce him to join forces by keeping him hostage, feeding him cat food and giving him electric shocks from a taser. When the snarling captive rejects the girls’ demands, they hatch a different plan, embarking upon some extra-curricular murder, intending to frame Lowell with these additional killings and thereby claim the credit for his eventual capture. The more kills the girls make, the more hits the blog receives and soon Rosedale High is trending. With Rosedale gripped in an escalating sense of panic, eroding the town’s confidence in the forces of law and order, McKayla and Sadie’s popularity and social-media status increases at the expense of the hapless Sheriff Blane Welch (Timothy V. Murphy).
Tragedy Girls has all the cool ironic detachment of the Scream or Scary Movie franchises with their slyly knowing postmodern intertextuality. The script is razor-sharp and the film as smart and cunning as the protagonists themselves. McKayla and Sadie come across like the girls from Amy Heckerling’s Clueless possessed by the spirits of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees with the film resembling Michael Lehmann’s Heathers being gleefully put through the meatgrinder by Wes Craven. The generic and stylistic nods to John Carpenter’s Halloween, the Friday the 13th series of films and even Brian De Palma’s Carrie are there for all to see. But in its depiction of two girls who are prepared to go to any lengths in order to achieve fame, I found myself thinking of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and Nicola Kidman’s equally devious, wicked and fame-obsessed weather-girl, Suzanne, who adopts murder as a tactic to help ascend the TV hierarchy.
Both Shipp and Hildebrand are terrific in the leading roles. The girls are sassy, funny and incredibly watchable and their relationship in the film is convincing and works exceptionally well. On the surface, McKayla and Sadie appear like any other regular teenage girls with the same interests and problems. But as their desire to escape the mundanity of Rosedale High and their pursuit of fame and popularity leads them to extreme violence, there is a perverse frisson to be found in the film ‘s generic twist which involves two young women doing the butchering rather than reverting to the worn out trope of scream queen as victim role.
Tragedy Girls pitches the balance between comedy and horror perfectly. As you marvel at the girls’ inventiveness and commitment, you can’t help but root for them despite the mayhem they inflict upon Rosedale. The murders are cartoonishly grotesque, like a vicious Warner Brothers animation and the film successfully manages to navigate the tricky terrain between laughter and revulsion as well as any other films in the slasher horror sub-genre.
Tragedy Girls carves up the high-school slasher movie for the social-media era. Facebook and Twitter posts are superimposed upon the action and the ubiquitous likes and love icons float across the screen. The two students’ lives are dominated by how many likes or retweets they receive with Sadie at one point complaining to McKayla that their twitter page ‘only got one retweet today - from your mom. Sad’. For all its anarchic outrageousness, pitch-black humour and absurdity, there is a serious core to Tragedy Girls as the film stabs a knife into the heart of today’s shallow and narcissistic celebrity-obsessed media culture.
Tragedy Girls was premiered at Frightfest in August and goes on general release in the UK later in the year.
Dead of Night, Hull’s annual horror film festival, is held in October. Now in its second year, it is curated by Hull Independent Cinema. Details of this year’s programme can be found at http://deadofnightfest.co.uk/ For Hull Independent Cinema news and screenings go to http://hullindependentcinema.com/