To compare Tragedy Girls to the classic Natural Born Killers is obvious, exact, and unnecessary all at once. This teen ghoulish-comedy romp is a blood-splattered affair, opening with a thesis statement, not unlike Oliver Stone’s seminal 90’s film. Where Killers started with a super-stylized murder party set in a campy and disturbing tone, Tragedy Girls goes right for the throat of slasher movie scenarios by deconstructing the typical makeout date scenario. Two lovers in a car on a foggy night, interrupted by a stranger…from there, the knife twists, revealing what this is about to be. Like Natural Born Killers, the movie is a generational comment. Unlike Killers, it takes a side-step from complicity and into fear.
Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp (both X-Men members) are high school seniors obsessed with recognition, popularity, and the second screen experience. Always armed with a smartphone, they blog and vlog about anything and everything related to the serial killings in town. To get more followers, they determine that scripting the events might be best for their portfolio. Here’s where the movie starts with a murder, a kidnapping, and a plan to copycat. Hildebrand and Shipp are true sociopathic kids, the kind that will either grow to become those negligent parents who constantly play facebook games or the kind that become media moguls or politicians. Guess which is the scarier notion.
“…the movie starts with a murder, a kidnapping, and a plan to copycat. Hildebrand and Shipp are true sociopathic kids…”
To relate in some way to these kids would be to discover something sinister about ourselves. They’re long gone and well off the edge of sympathy/empathy, but somehow their exploits and their attitude is infectious as Hannibal Lecter’s – which, of course, is not right. Hannibal is not the hero, though we celebrate his liberation from prison as a bird flying away to its rightful nest. Why? If these two teens weren’t murderers and just media hogs, why follow them when they wear their intentions on their sleeves? I suppose to answer those questions, we’d have to interview a Trump supporter or a Fox News viewer. There’s something deeply unsettling in Tragedy Girls, and it doesn’t just belong to the kids.
In an attempt to gain some promotional tweets, the gal pals visit Toby Mitchell (Josh Hutcherson). Straddling his motorcycle in a most serious and totally cool manner, Toby tells them he has to “watch out for his interests and those of his followers.” The facade of this image and, subsequently, America’s belief in that image existing, makes what Tragedy Girls has to say all the more honest and sad. Before anyone has a chance to slaughter anyone else, we’re already victims of a viral need to be seen and to be part of it. TV and movies were one thing, but with the democracy of the internet and the immediacy of everything consumable, we stand little to no chance of not being corrupted or stunted in some way.
“…to relate in some way to these kids would be to discover something sinister about ourselves. “
It’s not scary in the traditional or genre sense, Tragedy Girls utilizes the kills and gore to a different, more shocking end. In a particularly grotesque body shop sequence, the girls are tearing apart limbs and viscera of a fellow student. They’re doing so not with glee, curiosity or panic, but more as a business operation. It’s something they need to help them sell themselves to everyone else. Their scheme for more likes results in real-world consequences for others, but it also exposes the silliness and gross nature of quantifying social media. I get the very strong feeling that the filmmakers are genuinely afraid of this duo and what they represent, so much so that while Tragedy Girls is a pitch black dark comedy, it’s never making fun of or laughing at the girls – it dares not to.
As one generation observes the newer one, complicit shame, judgmental stares, and vicarious thrills are felt throughout. Tragedy Girls evokes and provokes, pushing the label of the protagonist and our relationship with/understanding of the “hero/heroes” in a given story. Time will tell where it’ll rank among this decade’s best movies, but in a true stabbing twist, it’s less Natural Born Killers and more Being There. Less about Chauncey Gardner, more about the people around him. Less about pop murder, more about the follower count. And that, my friends, is something to be afraid of.
Tragedy Girls (2017): Directed by Tyler MacIntyre. Written by Chris Lee Hill & Tyler MacIntyre. Starring Alexandra Shipp, Brianna Hildebrand, Josh Hutcherson
RATING: 4 / 5