When best-friend teenage true crime enthusiasts discover that there are more social media likes in committing the murders themselves, things are bound to get bloody.
Starring Brianna Hildebrand, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Hutcherson and Craig Robinson, sadistic slasher-comedy Tragedy Girls is a delightful ode to friendship and homicide.
We caught up with director Tyler MacIntyre to talk about the death-dealing duo that has won over audiences and critics alike.
Tom: You’ve previously said that, with Tragedy Girls, you wanted to avoid the tired slasher tropes that turned people off the genre. How did you go about distancing yourself from them?
Tyler: It really came down to the opening scene, getting things off on the right foot. When we were first approached about doing a slasher movie, they were out of fashion. It was early 2015, and we were in deep post-Conjuring territory. Chris and I started brainstorming and talking about what we didn’t like, what felt antiquated about slashers. First and foremost was the moralising element they have, the stuff they make fun of in the first Scream with that ground-breaking meta “the rules” scene. Don’t do drugs, drink, or have sex, these are things that were part of the cultural conversation when slashers were invented but not so much these days. We knew that had to go. Next was that there aren’t really any iconic female slashers. Other than maybe American Mary, it is rare to find a movie from the perspective of women slashers having fun on their own terms. So with that in mind, we came up with the opening sequence. It was designed to feed you a lot of iconic imagery, all-American kids, lover’s lane, muscle cars, and then flip it on its head and put us in the point-of-view of Sadie and McKayla for the rest of the story to play out. There’s another way to do this movie, from a less interesting perspective, where the girl with the glasses played by Katie Stottlemire is the protagonist and Sylvia, Toby and Jordan are people in her life… but we’ve seen that movie.
Tom: I understand that the film underwent massive changes between first draft and final product. How much of that original story is present in the finished movie?
Tyler: Almost none. It was still a slasher movie, and involved a group of young women in high school, but otherwise was quite different. The general engine of the movie is much more subversive, and the first draft wasn’t. It was straight forward, with a very I Know What You Did Last Summer vibe, and no sense of satire, which was important to us. Between when Justin Olson wrote the first draft in 2009 and when we came on in 2015, a lot changed with the horror fan-base that needed to be reflected in the script. To Justin’s credit he did get the project set up originally, which is super important. And also came up with a really fun title that kept people excited. I don’t know if we would have been able to get this type of idea made as a spec if he hadn’t gotten it set up first.
Tom: Shipp and Hildebrand give enormously entertaining performances, and the strength of their characters’ relationship is the backbone of the film. Can you talk a little about the creation of these two anti-heroes?
Tyler: Alexandra and Brianna are both very strong, motivated performers, who bring a lot of ideas to the table. We had a rehearsal process where we focused on the voices and mannerisms. How the characters’ energies play off each other. We hit on early that McKayla is more impulsive, like a hype-man, always moving and trying stuff. Sadie is more measured, she talks quickly and always has a plan. Production designer Mars Feehery and costume designer Dakota Keller were awesome for threading these ideas through the design of their rooms and clothes. A very hand-made collage-like style for Sadie, and a polished, store-bought design for McKayla. Sadie is a line, McKayla is a curve, and no two things go better together.
Tom: Do you find that nailing that sort of tone and balancing horror and humour is a challenge or is does it come naturally?
Tyler: It is somewhat natural, I guess. I’ve always been attracted to difficult tones. My favourite horror films are actually horror-comedies, so I grew up thinking of them as two sides of the same coin. For me, I really rely on my background as an editor. If you
pick up the pieces you know you need, you can introduce more humour or more horror here and there to balance the tone. It was definitely easier this time than on Patchwork, which was our first feature and also a horror comedy, but only because I learned from that experience.
Tom: The film has a fair bit to say about social media and citizen journalism. At what point did you decide that digital presence was going to drive the plot forward?
Tyler: It came pretty organically out of the original brainstorming that my co-writer Chris and I did. We wanted to have the girls personify that apparent social media narcissism that young people are always being accused of, but we don’t particularly agree with. We wanted the audience to think their motivation is only fame, but in the end we see it is more about friendship. Doing something together, creating something special with the people you care about is their driving force. The fame is only a bi-product. Obviously this is a satire and the project they are doing is very, very evil, but we were trying to get people to identify on some level with the desire to create something with your best friend.
Tom: You’ve also said that you’re a much better filmmaker than short filmmaker. How would you characterise the different skill-sets required?
Tyler: For me, short films are much, much more difficult, and quite a bit less interesting. I’m very impressed by the people who can do them well. You essentially need a quick, punchy idea that everything goes one-hundred percent right for. Generally shooting in one or two days, and the project is either success or failure right out of the gate. Commercials and music videos are similar. With a feature you get to live with it more. You attack it scene by scene, you win one day, and get your ass kicked the next. But then the sum total of your efforts over a few weeks add up to a film. With a ninety-ish minute runtime you have time to settle in, some things become more important and some things less, and you can respond to it as a living thing. What emerges over time is your style. It’s like writing a song versus a whole album. If I was a musician I’d probably make better LPs than hit singles.
Tom: Lastly, do you have any other upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
Tyler: We have a few things in the works, but I am most excited about a script we wrote called Nightlight that was sold to Sony/Columbia with Robert Shaye producing. We think it will be a really fun, tense, exciting ride!