Review by Jacquelin Hipes
Horror, perhaps more than any other film genre, captures the prevailing fears and attitudes of its time. With the encroachment of technology into our lives, storytellers have to find new ways of scaring an audience accustomed to the instant global connectivity allowed by cell phones and ubiquitous Wi-Fi hotspots. In recent years, they’ve moved beyond the terror of rural areas with no phone service and made social media a primary actor in the show. Tyler McIntyre’s Tragedy Girls eschews the “haunted computer” conceit of his predecessors and keeps the evil based in flesh and blood while parodying the most narcissistic and self-promoting side of social media.
High school seniors Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) hope to leverage their brand “Tragedy Girls”, an online show about serial killers, into wider fame. Rather than react to criminal incidents around them, the girls concoct a plan to capture a murderer-at-large (Kevin Durand) and apprentice under him in order to craft the perfect killing spree and their exclusive online coverage of it in tandem. Foibles of a typical teenager’s life soon interfere; love interests, rivals, prom committee, and uncooperative captives all form road blocks and threaten to drive a wedge between the aspiring murderesses. Before long, Sadie and McKayla have to choose their victims out of necessity, as their involvement in the crime spree risks discovery.
The script by McIntyre and Chris Lee Hill opens on a promising note: two teens parked on a lovers’ lane and a malevolent presence lurking in the shadows collide in an unexpected way. Unfortunately, the larger story fails to unfold in equally satisfying fashion. Much of the dialogue comes across as if Diablo Codey had written Scream, little more than a mish-mash of non-sequitur humor and heavy-handed meta winks at the audience. For our two leads they cast off any aspiration towards nuance in favor of clunky stereotypes. Tragedy Girls is in no way an insightful parody of the unhealthy obsession with fame fostered in some young adults. Instead it lands as an overly broad, derisive statement against an online culture that the creators likely learned about secondhand.
Hildebrand and Shipp outperform the material, which bodes well for future endeavors (more likely to be helped along by their participation in Marvel’s expanding cinematic universe). Kevin Durand provides the right touch of manic camp to serial killer Lowell, a rare instance of the parody succeeding more than it fails. While his performance is adequate, Jack Quaid looks old enough compared to his costars that he should have aged out of high school by now. Josh Hutcherson fits in better, although his self-absorbed bad boy gets regrettably limited screen time.
It’s a common shortfall in horror for a promising idea to stumble somewhere in its execution. An unfunny and unsurprising script hobbles the performances in Tragedy Girls and defangs any social commentary from the start. While the lead performances may make it easier to sit through for some, the struggle for a scary and intelligent look at our online lives continues in Hollywood.