Over the next few weeks, our writer in Melbourne, Sean W. Fallon, will be covering the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and reviewing some of his favourite movies from the festival.
Overview: Two serial killer obsessed high school girls go on a killing spree to increase their web popularity. Gunpowder & Sky; 2017; Rated-R; 90 mins
Horror: No other genre has the ability to reinvent itself like horror. Each year, a handful of movies come out that remind us how much fun this genre can be and how the tropes of the genre can be so easily subverted and changed. Tragedy Girls takes the slasher movie and the high school movie and smashes them together into something that feels familiar but also very new. It is the story of two high school girls, Sadie and McKayla, who are obsessed with death and serial killers. Right at the top of the movie, they manage to trap a serial killer (Kevin Durand) who is terrorising their town, and lock him in a warehouse. When their request for him to train them in the art of killing is met with violence and spittle they decide that they will continue the serial killer’s work, blame it on him, and use the ensuing panic to bolster their social media presence as the titular Tragedy Girls, a channel about murder and murderers.
Subversion: The movie subverts your expectations in many ways but crucially the girls at the heart of the plot do not fall into usual patterns. Their home lives are warm and loving, they are popular, they aren’t goths or anything like that, and they aren’t out to murder people who wronged them. There are a lot of comparisons to be made between this movie and Heathers, but with Heathers there was a sense that the victims deserved what happened to them, or they were presented in opposition to the heroine so therefore had to get got. In Tragedy Girls, those kind of distinctions are pretty loose and there is something very chilling about the main characters and their coldness about the whole affair, even as you find yourself liking them.
Cast: It is easy to like Sadie and McKayla when they are played by Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp, two brilliant, incredibly charming actresses with chemistry for days. They both give fantastic performances that range from being quite large to very little: Hildebrand can say quite a lot with just a single raised eyebrow and Shipp’s big toothy smile is somehow both endearing and terrifying. The love interest character played by Jack Quaid is a little more bland, but that works to keep the focus on the girls, who are the main event of the movie.
Overall: If you wanted a quick log line for Tragedy Girls, I would say it’s like Clueless meets Scream, but that wouldn’t quite do it justice. There’s also lot of Heathers in there and a heavy debt to ‘70s and ‘80s slasher movies with some of the shots and the synth-y music score, but it is very much its own movie too.
It will be interesting to see how well this movie plays in a few years as its reliance on references to Twitter culture, blogs, Periscope, status updates, Candy Crush, etc. might harm the movie’s aging. It is a very now movie and sort of gives lip service to an idea of how bad social media is for teenagers but mostly revels in the easy way that they can quantify the characters’ growing popularity by showing how many followers they’ve gained. The movie could also become a time capsule for future generations like War Games’ computers or any movie that involves a fax machine; a movie that my children watch and then I have to spend an hour failing to explain Snapchat to them.
Featured Image: Gunpowder & Sky