Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls is a satire of slasher movies and social media that opens with the stuff of urban legend: a teenage girl running away from a masked, trenchcoated murderer who just split open her date’s face with a knife. The scene starts out so archetypal it’s practically classical, but the foul-mouthed Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) doesn’t turn out to be standard serial-killer fodder. Before the murderer can catch her, he’s been clotheslined by a furtively hung wire. Turns out she was hunting him. Soon, Sadie and her best friend/soulmate, McKayla (Alexandra Shipp), are standing over him, tasering him and delivering blows to his head. These are no final girls; they’re two powerful young women, deriving their strength from out-crazying crazy.
Their quarry’s name is Lowell (Kevin Durand), and Sadie and McKayla want him to be their instructor. The girls yearn to become real-life horror legends, and start a killing spree in Rosedale, their Midwestern hometown, then achieve online superstardom through sympathetic responses—all while pinning their bloodshed on a patsy. Their cutesy social-media posts are designed to build a following through thoughts and prayers, as well as by galvanizing their community against the too-cautious sheriff’s department.
There’s no shortage of perfect victims for such maladjusted teens among their high school classmates and well-meaning but intrusive townsfolk. It allows for fun cameos: Josh Hutcherson plays McKayla’s motorcycling ex, who’s accrued a larger Instagram following than the Tragedy Girls through his sensitively pouty posts. And Craig Robinson plays Big Al, a fire official who steals the girls’ attention at a memorial service, stirring up the residents of Rosedale to find the killers themselves and thus making himself the killers’ target.
Big Al’s death, like all the others, is gruesome, and the gore offsets Tragedy Girls’s otherwise snide, precociously jokey tone, which better fits the screenplay’s grinning portrait of Twitter celebrity run amok. But the film’s central theme, about where attention-starved narcissism leads when taken to extremes, isn’t quite sufficient to sustain an entire feature. Throughout, the narrative padding is conspicuous—when one hastily introduced character is dispatched, another character is introduced—and the copious references to better films are gratuitous, even lazy. When Sadie’s love interest, Jordan (Jack Quaid), name-drops Dario Argento, it’s just so McKayla can repeat it back to him as “Dario DiGiorno” and “Mario Wario.” Tragedy Girls mistakes its smarmy self-awareness for insight. But it’s just adolescent posturing.