Tragedy Girls: A Fresh, Trendy Take on the Horror Genre

In Tragedy Girls (2017), two teen girls set social media on fire by kidnapping and unleashing a pet serial killer. Will they—or their friendship—survive this newfound notoriety? Written and directed by Tyler MacIntyre with contributions by Chris Lee Hill, Tragedy Girls is a fresh, contemporary take on the genre. MacIntyre and Hill also collaborated on several other projects, including the horror-comedy Patchwork (2015), and the film undoubtedly benefited from their rapport.

Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) are high school cheerleaders who run an unpopular true crime blog. They hatch a plan to kidnap local serial killer Lowell (Kevin Durand) and convince him to work together. He refuses, so Sadie and McKayla opt for plan B: commit sensational murders and blame them on Lowell, all while increasing their readership with exclusive inside information on the crimes.

The plan goes awry when Lowell convinces McKayla that Sadie wants to take all the fame and notoriety for herself. He eventually escapes and tracks Sadie to her friend Jordan’s house. Jordan (Jack Quaid) is son of Sheriff Welch (Timothy V. Murphy). He has a crush on Sadie but suspects McKayla is really the serial killer. Lowell stabs Jordan, but Sadie wakes Sheriff Welch and he chases Lowell off.

The girls’ rift deepens as Sadie and Jordan fall in love and McKayla continues her life of crime with Lowell. I won’t spoil the ending, but Tragedy Girls concludes with a fiery prom night that will make anyone sensitive to the topic of school violence cringe. The film’s ending reinforces the notion that attractive, popular girls are perceived as incapable of being vicious killers.

Tragedy Girls tries to upend the traditional horror movie trope of male killers attacking female victims. Here, the killers are teen girls and their victims are predominantly men. Coupled with the relationship between two best friends, it’s stylistically similar to films like Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Ginger Snaps (2000), but without the supernatural elements. However, it shares with Ingrid Goes West (2017) the theme of social media triggering insanity.

The use of murder to accumulate Twitter likes and followers is a unique and interesting plot device. Research has shown that posting and interacting on social media produces dopamine hits to the brain, which can be very addicting. It’s not unrealistic to think someone already predisposed to homicidal tendencies might act on them if they believed it would bring additional fame through social media. There is a well-established connection between school shooters and terrorist groups, for instance, and seeking “internet notoriety.”

Violent killers are predominantly men, and female killers prefer more “subtle” methods like poisoning. Tragedy Girls at least tries to acknowledge this reality, and Sadie and McKayla resort to trickery and manipulation or surprise rather than brute force. Only by working together do they overcome their prey. By incorporating these believable elements, Tragedy Girls’ already outlandish premise avoids being too over the top.

Tragedy Girls saw a limited release in theaters and only grossed $62,000 at the box office, though it won Best Screenplay at the 2017 Brooklyn Horror Film Festival. It currently has an 81% favorability rating from critics and 67% from audiences on RottenTomatoes. It’s a shame this film didn’t receive wider release. I thought the interaction between the lead cast was great, and the dialogue was sharp and witty. I’m looking forward to seeing future projects from these filmmakers.

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