In the 1976 classic Network, the idea Howard Beale could be killed due to low ratings was a shocking punchline. Forty-some years later, the notion of murdering multiple victims for the sake of social media numbers seems self-evidently logical. Oh, what progress. High school seniors Sadie Cunningham and McKayla Hooper aspire to be something like the My Favorite Murder podcasters, but they are much more “hands-on.” Their suspicion a serial killer is stalking the good citizens of Rosedale would be good for business, so they naturally try to promote his work in Tyler McIntyre’s Tragedy Girls (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and VOD.
Suspecting a Rosedale Ripper is stalking the oblivious town, Cunningham and Cooper lay a trap for him, using a horny (soon-to-be-late) classmate as bait. When the troglodytic Lowell strikes, the girls lower the stun gun and chloroform boom, holding him captive in an abandoned water tower. Initially, they were hoping he would mentor them in serial killing, but when he turns out to be too crude and hostile to be any use, they just keep his chained up, so he can escape late in the second act.
As their serial killing confidence grows, the two besties start offing their campus rivals and then they post pseudo-journalistic commentary on the crimes under their combined social media handle: “Tragedy Girls.” They are particularly contemptuous of Sheriff Blane Welch, whom they accuse of misleading denials, even though he is the father of their oblivious webmaster, Jordan, who has long carried a torch for Cunningham.
Arguably, Tragedy Girls is exactly the film Assassination Nation, the most over-praised dog at this year’s Sundance, should have been. Instead of suggesting the Tragedy Girls are victims of a rigidly judgmental culture, McIntyre empowers them as master manipulators of a generation addicted to likes and over-shares. Cunningham and Hooper are horrifying, because they are the logical extension of us.
They are also quite funny. Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp chew the scenery with biting attitude and zestful energy. Hildebrand manages to humanize Cunningham to an extent, turning some almost endearing scenes with her father and young Welch, whereas Shipp goes full-on unhinged as Hooper. Once again, Kevin Durand is way too convincing for comfort as a monosyllabic serial killer, whereas Timothy V. Murphy grounds the film as the flawed but fundamentally decent sheriff.
Clearly McIntyre and co-screenwriter Chris Lee Hill have fully processed the Scream franchise, Heathers, and the original 1980s slasher spoofs, Student Bodies and Pandemonium. They pivot on a dime between black comedy and horror, but it never jars us very much, because they equally comfortable with both extremes. Unfortunately, they run out of smart snark down the stretch and just tie it off as best they can, but for the most part, the film is just a lot of shameless, gleeful fun. Recommended for horror fans with zeitgeisty attitude, Tragedy Girls releases today on DVD and VOD platforms.