Taking “Mean Girls” to a Grand Guignol extreme, the gory horror-comedy “Tragedy Girls” is at least the third movie this year — after “Ingrid Goes West” and “Friend Request” — to offer up a cautionary tale about the dangers of social media.
It’s also the sharpest.
Teenagers Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand of “Deadpool”) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp of “X-Men: Apocalypse”) are high school classmates and amateur crime reporters in a small Midwestern town. As the movie opens, the two BFFs have lured and captured a local serial killer (Kevin Durand), holding him hostage so that the psychopath can give them pointers for a homicidal spree of their own, which they plan to blame on him.
It sounds absurd, but these girls would kill — literally — to boost the profile of their shared Instagram account, Tragedy Girls. Their first victim is the town’s young rebel, Toby (Josh Hutcherson). Unfortunately, the sheriff (Timothy V. Murphy) declares Toby the victim of a motorcycle accident, forcing Sadie and McKayla to up their game. The ensuing carnage is staged with ever-increasing invention: blood pools on the school floor, mixed with coffee, in the aftermath of one particularly creative mutilation.
The film’s young slashers are irredeemably smug and obnoxious, and their bloodthirsty craving for social media likes, represented by heart icons that float out of their cellphones after each murder that they document — without implicating themselves — fuels a vicious satire.
After the death of one popular girl, Syl (Savannah Jayde), the school’s principal (Loren Lester) tells the girls, “We all need to find a way to grieve, and remembering Syl’s spirit on the internet is part of that.” In the wake of another murder, McKayla slyly suggests a memorial hashtag, a cruel but spot-on indictment of social media responses to tragedy.
Director Tyler MacIntyre (“Patchwork”) was mentored at film school by exploitation-movie legend Roger Corman (“Death Race”), and this vivid and deftly edited genre picture makes the most out of what looks like a modest budget. It’s not until the final act that “Tragedy Girls” loses steam, coming to rest at a natural — if all-too-obvious — milestone for high school horror: prom night.
For the most part, though, like that swirl of blood and coffee, the movie cranks visceral, caffeinated thrills out of its teenage-meat grinder.
Starring Alexandra Shipp, Brianna Hildebrand and Josh Hutcherson. Directed by Tyler Macintyre.
Rated R for strong language, sexual situations and graphic violence. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 36 minutes.
Bottom line: Social media tale cranks out visceral thrills