Hello and welcome to the first installment of Funny Bones, Nightmare on Film Street’s monthly horror-comedy column. Each month we’ll look at the types of horror and humor a particular film blends together, the prevailing cinematic trends of the era that influenced the film. We’ve reached the culmination of our deep dive into the world of horrific high school proms. So, it’s only fitting that we kick things off with a horror-comedy that features an incredibly climactic prom scene; 2017’s Tragedy Girls from writer/director Tyler MacIntyre (Patchwork) and co-writers Chris Lee Hill (Patchwork) and Justin Olson.
Tragedy Girls is the story of two best friends and high school seniors, Sadie Cunningham (Brianna Hildebrand, Deadpool) and McKayla Hooper (Alexandra Shipp, X-Men: Dark Phoenix), who come up with an ingenious and bloody way to promote their true crime blog. It involves murdering everyone who annoys them and then using their knowledge of crime shows and horror films to frame a budding serial killer named Lowell Orson Lehman (Kevin Durand) for their gruesome atrocities. It’s a quest that becomes complicated by bad luck, people misreading their kills, and the tumultuous nature of adolescent friendships.
“Tragedy Girls is the story of two best friends […] who come up with an ingenious and bloody way to promote their true crime blog.”
The destructive power of social media is a large focus of Tragedy Girls and it was also on the mind of a number of the filmmakers’ contemporaries as well. That same year saw the release of horror films like Friend Request and Like Me, techno-thrillers like The Circle, and the black dramedy Ingrid Goes West. The roots of the film though stretch back several years to the Scream franchise and 1989’s cult classic, pitch black, teen comedy Heathers. Without spoilers, let’s just say there’s a lot of aspects in the killers of Scream 1 and 4 in Sadie and McKayla, especially in the way they relate to each other. Plus, Slasher movie conventions are knowingly and lovingly referenced throughout the film. The movie begins with two teens making out in a car in a deserted area and ends with a shocking showdown at prom.
I reference Heathers because it features a plot about the humorous and unintended consequences of high school students murdering their classmates. So it’s a satirical look at high school life. There is some of that in Tragedy Girls, but the laughs are more character and situational based. A lot of the comedy comes from what happens during and after Sadie and McKayla’s killings. Plus, the film has a number of really funny characters in small roles. My favorites include a firefighter known as Big Al (Craig Robinson), Loren Lester’s Principal who really wants to be friends with his students, Rosalind Chao’s Mayor who eagerly gets out in front off any popular movements, and Katie Stottlemire’s glasses-wearing character who is credited as Bookish Student. Her character only appears really in the background of a few scenes, but she steals almost every one she’s in, especially during prom.
The kills in Tragedy Girls are also quite funny because a number of them are so spectacularly over the top. One is even described by a character as, “Some real Final Destination shit“. There’s also a surprising amount of gore that comes from them. It looks great though and is not gratuitous. When you see blood, guts, and brains you’re either laughing, incredibly disturbed, or both.
The laughs in Tragedy Girls add just the right amount of levity to the film. Because ultimately it’s a very dark tale of two manipulative and violent killers. The two leads are amazing at bringing those aspects of their characters to life. Hildebrand gives psychopathic Sadie this perfect calculating stare, and Shipp infuses sociopathic McKayla with a simmering anger that feels right and disturbing. The way they react to each other is also great. Tragedy Girls feels like a realistic portrayal of the friendship between both high school girls and two people who have bonded over their shared secret of violent personality disorders.
“When you see blood, guts, and brains you’re either laughing, incredibly disturbed, or both.”
The film also features some great supporting characters as well. Jack Quaid (The Boys) plays Jordan Welch, a fellow student who helps video edit the Tragedy Girls blog and has a crush on Sadie. Quaid is the son of actors Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid and has inherited all of his parent’s natural charisma. So, over the course of the film you’ll come to really like and worry about Jordan. I also liked Jordan’s father, the town sheriff Blane Welch (Timothy V. Murphy), who is a single dad that’s constantly confounded by Sadie and McKayla’s attempts to become internet famous. And Nicky Whelan is good as Mrs.Kent; the teacher who tries to instill a sense of empathy in the Tragedy Girls.
Final Verdict: I like to think of horror-comedies as a mix of sweet& salty, and Tragedy Girls is definitely saltier than it is sweet. So, it may come off as too dark for people who see the trailer and are expecting something like Scream meets Clueless. If you enjoy pitch black, character-driven comedy and horror though, there’s a lot to love in this film.
Are you fan of Tyler MacIntyre’s horror-comedy Tragedy Girls? Do you have a high-school ‘ride-or-die’ best friend? Let us know over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!