The slasher movie is dead. The initial success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre led to a string of stand-out horror films that defined the slasher genre, but from there the genre has fallen into a steady decline of repetition, lethargy and cheapness that is often shunted upon release into the furthest reaches of Netflix’s video library or the DVD bin at Walmart.
Still, the prevalence of such films has cemented the slasher as a staple premise in the overarching horror genre. But slasher films can no longer play out like they once did. It can no longer be as simple as teenagers in the woods getting picked off by a masked lunatic; there must be some twist, some variation that sets it apart from the pack.
In the case of Tragedy Girls, it is a swapping of protagonists coupled with a heavy dose of biting satire. The horror-comedy, by Tyler MacIntyre, follows high school seniors McKayla and Sadie as they attempt to boost their criminal investigation Twitter page – @TragedyGirls – by committing a series of murders in their small Midwestern town.
The film is most definitely a post-modern take on the slasher genre, most notably by the flip of making the teenage girls the killers instead of the victims, and what brutal killers they are. Sadie and MK’s plan is neither circumstantial nor accidental – from minute one they are cold, calculating and every bit as sadistic as any other slasher villain. They aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty in their line of work, which is exemplarily showcased by the film’s spectacularly bloody gore effects.
Underneath the murder and dismemberment, the story of Tragedy Girls has a surprisingly warm if twisted heart. Actresses Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp have fantastic chemistry together, and really relay the feel of two girls who’ve been friends since childhood. As the film progresses and a wedge is driven between our two psychopaths, it’s impossible not to feel at least a little sorry for them. You end up hoping that they’ll get away with murder, if only so that their friendship will survive.
Despite the prevalence and centrality of smartphones and social media to the plot, Tragedy Girls feels almost exactly like a slasher film ripped straight out of the ‘80s. If not for the fact that someone is almost always on their iPhone in every scene, the small town, the naïve townsfolk and the ineffective law enforcement make Tragedy Girls feel right in line with something like Pieces or The Mutilator.
In the long list of current slasher films, Tragedy Girls is a breath of fresh air, a step in the right direction for the subgenre that keeps the blood and guts, while taking time to focus on character, storytelling and innovation. With any luck, Tragedy Girls may be proof that the slasher movie will live again.
Tragedy Girls makes its debut Oct. 20.