In Tragedy Girls, a pair of high school cheerleaders seek fame -- and Twitter followers -- with a series of brutal, sociopathic murders. The film takes full advantage of tropes in both the horror and comedy genres, creating a sharp satire that is both fun and gruesome.
Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand, Deadpool) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp, X-Men: Apocalypse) are typical high school students. They are popular, outgoing, and devotees of social media. Their passion project is @TragedyGirls, an account where they work on their crime reporting skills. When there aren't enough crimes in their sleepy town, they kidnap a serial killer and force him to mentor them. Soon, the Tragedy Girls start creating their own tragedies -- and making a name for themselves.
SYFY WIRE sat down with writer/director Tyler MacIntyre (Patchwork) and Shipp to talk about slasher films, psychopathy, and finding the balance between horror and comedy.
Where did the idea for Tragedy Girls come from?
Tyler MacIntyre: Essentially we were brought on to do a rewrite of an existing script called Tragedy Girls. We all loved that title. Chris Hill, my writing partner, and I really love slasher movies. We wanted to see if we could create a new opportunity to find something fresh within that, even though it has been kind of played out. In 2015, we were trying to think about why [slasher] movies weren't being made. We started talking about how a lot of slasher movies in the 1980s and 1990s had this weird "judgement" to them. No sex, no drugs, you have to live your life a certain way. They were imposing these old-school values. That's why these movies had become kind of irrelevant. We wanted to see if we could find a way to create characters where that's not an issue. We can kind of move past that.
With that came this idea of taking the objectified victims and making them the perpetrators, and kind of personalizing that psychopathy and seeing what kind of narrative opportunities that opened up. Now, it wasn't like, "Oh, are these characters going to survive?" They are after something else. They are after fame. Are they going to get that? Can we create a relationship that is real enough that people will go along with that journey, even though it is morally inverted?
What drew you to the role?
Alexandra Shipp: I haven't had the chance to do much comedy, and that is one of my favorite things.
TM: She's hilarious, by the way.
AS: It was so much fun, getting to go back and forth, and be funny. Even seeing how Tyler shot it, and seeing how the jokes land ... that was one of the things that really excited me about this. Having a chance to be funny, and getting to play someone who is as bats*** crazy as McKayla Hooper. I've never gotten a chance to play someone who has lost so much of their humanity so early in life. It's like, "What happened to you, girl?" Literally nothing! But she's nuts. There is something so cool about that. It's not like McKayla was abused when she was younger -- she's just nuts. She comes from a great, upper-middle-class family. Her phone is bedazzled! There is nothing wrong with this girl -- and yet everything is wrong with her. It's those types of characters that really excite me. That's the meat and potatoes. That's why I get to do fun stuff like this.
How did you go about finding actors who had such great chemistry as Brianna and Alexandra?
TM: It's difficult, I think, with younger performers -- to find ones with a confident voice. I've been keeping tabs on Alex for a long time.
AS: Not in a creepy way!
TM: No, not in a creepy way! Brianna, I saw in First Girl I Loved. I thought, they know what they are doing. They were familiar with one another from sharing the Marvel Universe.
Was the chemistry between you two immediate, or did you have to work on it?
AS: A little bit of both. I think our chemistry as friends in real life was natural, but then bringing forth this almost satirical version of it was something ... We're told that, as friends in the real world, you can't show too much love and affection to someone who isn't your significant other. I think that between Sadie and McKayla, there is some real, in-depth love between them that is really beautiful to see. Creating that between us, we lived together, we worked with Tyler, going over the script, going over the language, figuring out how deep those rivers ran. It was instantaneous, but then we fine-tuned it.
Do the girls have any greater aspirations besides just "followers"?
TM: Yeah. It's a little bit uninteresting to me that someone just wants to literally be famous. I think that [the Tragedy Girls] are equating that with giving their lives meaning and purpose. A story about someone who just wants money is not compelling, but the idea of someone who wants it because they have a chip on their shoulder or because they need to buy a heart transplant ... you have to personalize it somehow; make it an obsession beyond that "look at me, look at me" stuff. I think that's the superficial part of it, but for them, it will give their friendship and their life validation.
AS: I think they do have aspirations beyond just being famous. But I think that we're playing a heightened version of a real-life reality. I've met a lot of young millennials, and a majority of them just want to be famous. There's a reality rooted in that. A lot of them want to be famous online, because that is a source of popularity that we as adults have never experienced. The extent of that was, like, the cheerleading captain in high school. Now the cheerleading captain has 1.5 million followers on Twitter and Instagram, and she can make millions of dollars just based off skinny-fit tees. That equates to some kind of worth that they feel for themselves on the inside. Even though we are kind of playing in this heightened world, this heightened version, I don't think it's that farfetched to think that someone would want to purely be famous online. They don't have to work that hard. They really just have to know how to contour their face and do a couple sit-ups.
This is obviously a social satire, but was there any worry that it would hit too close to home?
TM: Yeah, that has been a bit of a concern. It was brought up kind of early. If you're ever going to have violence in a high school in your movie, that can be a hot-button issue. We wanted to keep it firmly in movie-land, where we are playing with horror movie tropes, so people's [minds] go there first. We didn't want it to [impact] the enjoyment of the narrative. Also, this isn't really a movie that is dealing with that directly. We wanted to keep gun violence out of it, and find other, more creative ways to deal with the death scenes. I think that helps keep the conversation more in the meta realm. That said, it is aimed to be a satire, but the tragedy is that it's not as satirical as we would hope.
AS: The crazy thing about that is that you are rooting for these girls. That's the fun and scary part of it. You see them go through all of this, and you are still rooting for them. It's hilarious and freaky. At the same time, it's also a joke. You've got to be able to take a joke. When we are playing with something like satire, where people are dying in gory, sadistic, slapstick-ish ways, you have to be able to laugh at certain things. Also, we didn't do anything as distasteful as what is in the news, happening in real life. It's a crazy world, but we are playing in a different world, which is a little bit easier. Instead of shooting up an entire school -- which is not good in any way, shape, or form -- we are doing it in a little more of a classic way, where we are knocking them off individually, with our own hands.
TM: Taking ownership over the mayhem.
Any talk of a sequel? Maybe Tragedy Girls 2: More Tragic?
AS: I am trying so hard to get him to make a sequel. I don't know what it is going to be about, but I've suggested ninjas. But I would love for there to be a sequel.
TM: Yeah, everyone thinks it's up to me, but it's not! So far we've had some successful screenings, and the reviews have been very kind, so it has started to resonate a bit, and it is definitely set up [for a sequel]. That's the beauty of doing a slasher movie -- they are kind of set up to be renewable engines.
AS: I think this would be quite a fun cult franchise. It would be interesting to play on all the different ways these girls can achieve fame through being psychopaths. That sounds fun.
Tragedy Girls opens in select theaters Oct. 20.