Friday, August 4, 2017

2017 Fantasia International Film Festival Review: "Tragedy Girls"


Tragedy Girls (2017)
94 min., not yet rated.

Ever since the self-aware stroke of genius that was Wes Craven’s "Scream"—a deconstruction of slasher movies that doubled as a great example of a slasher movie—there are haven’t been a ton of films that have come as close to turning the tropes of the genre inside out. With "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon," "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil," "The Cabin in the Woods," and "The Final Girls" the only other exceptions, "Tragedy Girls" can now join the clique. Sharing a subversive wit that’s closest to "Heathers" and a hip, quick-witted language that tips its knife to Diablo Cody and perhaps even the wildly underappreciated and just-plain-wild "Detention," this vibrantly vicious high school horror-comedy is going to kill as a future cult favorite that can be enjoyed unironically, but it might be too darkly offbeat for the mainstream — that’s their loss.

Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp) are two peas in a pod. They’re high school girls, both trying to fit in by joining the cheerleading squad and prom committee, but they really want to be prolific serial killers and social-media stars. When they finally catch Lowell Lehmann (Kevin Durand), the machete-wielding maniac who’s been racking up a high murder rate in their midwest town of Rosedale, Sadie and McKayla want him as their teacher, but he proves unwilling to cooperate, so they just keep him chained up as their pet. In the meantime, the girls keep their murder skills sharp by killing anyone whom they deem needs to go and use those killings as content for their true-crime blog, “Tragedy Girls,” before the press gets the scoop. In secret, they’re tired of their efforts always looking like freak accidents, so they up their game, while trying to keep attention off of them by blaming the police for never catching the perpetrator. 

"Tragedy Girls" sounds like it could be too tasteless or too cute for its own good, almost smug, but it’s instead whip-smart and never lacking in wickedly clever gumption. Writer-director Tyler MacIntyre and co-writers Chris Lee Hill and Justin Olson have concocted a mean, potentially quotable script full of snarky attitude, constantly riding a very tricky tone between tongue-in-cheek lark with slit throats and a lovingly twisted portrait of two murderous besties. With something relevant to say about the world we’re living in where YouTube and Twitter spawn celebrities, the film is also just extremely entertaining. It races a mile a minute, dropping references to "Martyrs," Dario Argento, the "Final Destination" series, and Quento Tarantino’s "Death Proof" installment in "Grindhouse" and even a sneaky nod to "Cannibal Holocaust." The violence is broad enough to be splattery but not too sick, and imaginatively staged to be memorable, like a buzzsaw-happy kill in the school woodshop and another involving a piece of heavy gym equipment. To read the rest of the review, go to Diabolique Magazine.

Grade: B +

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