Fantasia 2017: Tragedy Girls
Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls playing at this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival begins with a scene in which 80s horror fans are well versed. A young girl getting romantic with her boyfriend hears a bump outside of his car. Checking out the mysterious source of the sound, the boyfriend’s head is swiftly cleaved in two. It’s certainly gruesome, but like the rest of the film, in hilarious fashion. Only moments later we come to realize that the killer has actually fallen into a trap laid by our final girl and that, in fact, the sociopath in question is not the masked, raggedy man wielding a machete, but rather a duo of teenage girls sporting bubblegum colored lipstick and glitter-encrusted phones.
The subversion of horror tropes that takes place in the first scene, though, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Macintyre’s comedy-horror with a far larger emphasis on comedy than on horror. Tragedy Girls gradually morphs from a playful, genre-bending exercise into a surprisingly hilarious high school comedy that uses sociopathy and brutal murder as a tool to liven up what has become a stale formula. MacIntyre uses his very clear (and diverse) sources of inspiration – everything from Halloween to Final Destination to Suspiria to Shaun of the Dead – to help create points of cultural anchorage, but also to highlight how completely fresh his story is.
What is perhaps most impressive about Tragedy Girls is how well the cast manages to tread the fine line between caricature and pathos. Each of the characters, whether murderer or murder victim, feels likable enough to endear themselves to the audience without ever endearing themselves enough that we can’t enjoy their eventual gory demise. It's a tight balancing act, but MacIntyre and the cast – headlined by relative newcomer Alexandra Shipp (X-Men Apocalypse), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool), Craig Robertson (of The Office fame), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), and character actor Kevin Durand – tread that tightrope with aplomb.
However, like many films with a strong central idea, Tragedy Girls fails to tie up certain loose narrative strands – or at least make good use of them. In the first scene we discover that the girls have trapped the serial killer to help give them tips on how to murder people. He’s essentially their gore guru. It’s a brilliant conceit, but the thread languishes until the final act when it is resurrected in a way that feels more narratively expedient than interesting. Similarly, the finale seems to be gearing up toward some final punch-line and though I’m glad there isn’t an on-the-nose "Tragedy Girls go to college bit", it feels a bit awkward.
Still, this is one of the most clever comedies I’ve seen in some time and it’s absolutely one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Seek this one out as soon as you can.