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Tragedy Girls is a lazy attempt at horror satire, redeemed only by how weird it is

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tragedy girls Image: Gunpowder & Sky

This fall, The Verge is making a choice. The choice is fear! We’ve decided to embrace the season by taking in as many new horror movies as possible and reporting back on which ones are worth your time. We’re calling this series Hold My Hand, as we look at films you might want to watch with a supportive viewing partner. Get comfortable, put the kettle on, check the closet for ghosts, then find a hand to squeeze until the bones pop.

Sadie and McKayla do everything together: homework, prom, cheerleading practice, after-school smoothies, dissing ex-boyfriends, murdering some people to get more followers on their joint Twitter account, etc. They tweet together from the handle @tragedygirls, posing as sweet and innocent — but simultaneously knowledgable and calm — bystanders of the gore plaguing their hometown.

When we meet them, they’re bopping around to Cults’ “Always Forever” and kidnapping a serial killer. Their hope is that he’ll teach them his methods, and that they can blame a rash of murders they’re planning on him if it ever comes down to it. He sets the tone of the movie, struggling against the ropes on his wrists and hissing a number of threats too vulgar to repeat, including, and this is one of his more mild ideas, “I’m gonna skull-fuck your severed heads while your parents watch.” They find him hilarious and charming, telling him, “We’re your biggest fans, dude.” Then they lock him in a warehouse on the outskirts of town and bounce home to join their parents for dinner.

Tragedy Girls is a weak piece of satire, but it is exactly this weird for 96 minutes. If your ideal Halloween-time film is “perfect rom-com length, splash of glitter, ocean of blood, no real reason to exist,” then this could be a solid option for you. It also features two extremely good prom dresses and a cameo from The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson, who plays an odd combination of biker dude, “free love” hippie guy, and “hi, I’m Josh Hutcherson, you might know me from The Hunger Games.”

Is it scary?

That depends — do you live near a high school? Tragedy Girls is gory, and there’s one scene in a high school wood shop classroom that made me feel a little weak behind the knees and elbows and eye sockets. The movie is meant as a dark comedy, and it succeeds at being, if not scary, then at least utterly jarring once every five minutes. Though, for me, the “can you believe two pretty teen girls are saying this stuff?” shtick got a little bit old after the first 20 minutes. Are you scared of young women in general? Maybe this movie will be scary to you, in that case.

Will I care about the characters?

No. Sadie (Deadpool’s Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (X-Men: Apocalypse’s Alexandra Shipp) are basically undifferentiable characters with the same sense of humor and the same lust for blood. There’s not much else to say about them beyond... they have really strong stomachs?

The only possible exception is the girls’ video editor Jordan (The Hunger Games’ Jack Quaid), who is also the sheriff’s son. He has a crippling crush on Sadie, who’s nice-ish to him even while making him complicit in a bunch of murders. He’s not especially interesting and I understand why Sadie is not sold on the idea of a romance with such a vanilla person, but I relate to his unfortunate position of being emotionally obsessed with a sociopath and was therefore able to feel some sympathy for him. He’s just your typical teen, editing videos of murder for the girl he loves, quietly convincing himself that she is stumbling upon all these murders in shock and is not involved in them in any way. A classic human experience!

tragedy girls Image: Gunpowder & Sky

Is it visually impressive?

Tragedy Girls looks exactly like a Disney Channel movie about high school, except you have to watch and hear a knife miss its mark and get lodged in a breast bone three times in a row. I wouldn’t call it impressive, although there are some loopy, kaleidoscope moments near the Carrie-inspired climax that seem like a callback to that movie’s famous dance sequence. But if a hat-tip to Carrie is what you’re in the mood for, you only have dozens of other options — maybe Never Been Kissed or Superstar would be more fun?

What’s lurking beneath the surface?

Tragedy Girls is supposed to be satire of a subculture of young women trying to get famous online. Sadie and McKayla are obsessed with their follower counts and retweets (although the one time they show a “retweet” it’s actually a mention), and they’ll do anything to get on TV. It’s hard to imagine anything less in need of a feature-length satirization than the sentiment that young women are narcissistic and grossly dedicated to hollow benchmarks of success and admiration.

Tragedy Girls would be basically pointless if it weren’t also so deeply weird. There are a handful of great throwaway lines like “To make an omelette, you have to kill some ex-boyfriends,” and “How did that prissy bitch get so good at wood shop?” and McKayla’s weight room spat with local hero Big Al (Craig Robinson) is strange enough to be actually funny. Their neon murder masks are a cool aesthetic touch, though the way our teen murderers are shot in them —with the lens looking up from the floor — gives off the impression that the filmmakers watched Spring Breakers and thought, “What if we did that, but emptier?”

At least when Ashley Benson stood over a dead body in a hot-pink ski mask (with a unicorn appliqué!) she had spent two hours turning into a murderer, and the driving force was a confluence of growing up vain, bored, and class envious in a culture obsessed with beauty and violence. Her nihilistic hedonism made sense in 2012, two months before the proposed end of the world, and though her femininity was certainly crucial to the events of the film, it wasn’t portrayed as her first and biggest crime.

The girls in Tragedy Girls have an entirely stupid murder-team-origin-story that’s revealed only in the film’s final minutes. But their obsession with social media fame is never explained, implying that it doesn’t have to be — girls just are this way. At one point, when the Sadie and McKayla are feigning terror that the town serial killer will come for them next, someone suggests that they stop posting their locations online. “I’d rather die,” Sadie exclaims, in the only true burst of emotion she shows during the entire film. Suit yourself, but I prefer not to spend my hours at the movies squirming against the instinct to hiss “Okay, I get it, Dad” at whoever’s nearby.

tragedy girls Image: Gunpowder & Sky

And if you’re going to make a movie about teen girls without moral compasses, the least you can do is include a good dance number.

How can I watch it?

Tragedy Girls opens in limited release on October 20th.

Is it a hand-holding movie?

As the column is called Hold My Hand, I suppose this is the only metric that really matters. Yes, Tragedy Girls is a hand-holding movie. You can hold a hand — very lightly — to reassure its owner that you aren’t going to remove it from their body with a circular saw. Go ahead and hold a hand as a nice way to say “I am not deceiving you. I like you and I haven’t implicated you in any major crimes. Here we are: at the movies, having an okay time, refraining from tweeting.” Hold a hand, smile, drop your phone into a 32-ounce Pepsi, tell someone “I’m your biggest fan, dude.”