Tragedy Girls is one of my favourite horror movies of the year thus far, never mind one of the best showing at Frightfest 2017. Tyler MacIntyre’s story of two social media-obsessed teenage girls who also happen to be serial killers in training is loaded with sly cultural references, bucket-loads of gore and so many killer one-liners it demands an immediate re-watch.
The heart of it all, of course, is the central relationship between bloodthirsty McKayla (X-Men: Apocalypse‘s Alexandra Shipp) and Sadie (Deadpool‘s Brianna Hildebrand). Even with a supporting cast including the likes of Craig Robinson, Josh Hutcherson and Kevin Durand, the two young actors command each and every scene they’re in with ease. It’s to their great credit that Tragedy Girls has us rooting for them throughout, even when things get more than a little bloody.
With the flick finally set to hit theaters on October 20, Wicked Horror‘s Joey Keogh nabbed Shipp for a quick chat about horror, feminism and the importance of strong female characters in a genre that sees them, predominantly, running around scantily-clad and screaming at the top of their lungs.
WH: So, tell me a little bit about your character. Who is McKayla? Where does she fit into the story of Tragedy Girls?
AS: Well, McKayla is a psychopathic best friend [laughs] who doesn’t want anybody else to be a part of their [she and Sadie’s] friend group. In my opinion, McKayla is that person who is afraid of change, who doesn’t want change, the only change she wants is to see someone’s brains splattered against the wall. I love that about her, it’s what drew me to the character. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she doesn’t care who she steps on in order to get what she wants, which is online infamy.
WH: What else attracted to playing, as you described it, a psychopathic best friend?
AS: For me, I love the idea of being able to play someone who’s just completely lost their humanity. McKayla really does not have an on/off switch when it comes to her crazy. It’s just on, all the time. I loved the idea of playing someone who is so calculated and yet not calculated at the same time. Someone who’s so vindictive and so wild. She’s just so far gone, crazy-wise, and I like to think I’m a little bit crazy, too, just not a psychopath. McKayla is so far down that crazy rabbit hole and it’s just so much fun to play someone like that. Someone who’s just so out-of-their-mind crazy.
WH: It’s actually quite rare that we get to see these kinds of flawed female characters onscreen. Particularly in this case, because they don’t get their comeuppance, they get away with it, and we’re rooting for them the whole time. Why do you think that is? Why do you think it’s such a rare thing?
AS: First off, I think it’s rare because it’s women, you know? Second, it’s a hard world that we live in and with these girls, they’re showing you the other side of the coin, a little bit crazier, a little bit more twisted, a little bit more sadistic. They take it to a complete extreme, which I don’t think we see often with women in film, particularly with women in scary movies. So for them to kind of take on that role of the aggressor is really cool and really fun. And I’m excited for people to see this movie for that reason because right from the off you’re able to take the joke. It’s obvious that we’re joking and we don’t really want to burn up the entire Prom. But at the same time it’s not too far off with where we’re going in this world, in the sense that we’re doing a lot of things that go outside our morality code for social media likes and favourites. So it kind of plays with a lot of different things in that way.
WH: So you think there’s a grain of truth to it for the youth of today? Not to sound like a really old person!
AS: Oh, 100 per cent. And I don’t think you sound old saying that at all. I’m 26 and I don’t understand this shit. The whole idea of social media and sharing parts of yourself and your life, and that equating to some sense of self worth, or placing more faith in someone because they get more likes or whatever, it’s not far off from where these kids are going. You’ve seen the movie right?
WH: Yeah, a couple months ago [at Frightfest].
AS: Right, so you know there are certain moments when you see them acting like quintessential teens. When McKayla’s taking pictures and she’s doing duck-face, or when she says “yassssssss queen” or “LOL” or things like that. She’s really able to, or we’re able to, poke fun at millennials in a way because the majority of this stuff is so outlandish and so ridiculous. But there’s a real truth and a real language to it. It’s similar to the language of Heathers, Gilmore Girls, Jawbreaker, you know each film has its own language and our film is definitely the language of the social media age. I don’t love it, but I do love it for this movie.
WH: Speaking of which, Tragedy Girls has been described as a cross between Heathers and Scream. When I spoke to Tyler [MacIntyre, the director] at Frightfest, he said he would compare it more to Jawbreaker. Do you think any of those are fair comparisons?
AS: Yeah, I mean, I like Scream, but I actually think it’s more Scary Movie because there are moments [in Tragedy Girls] that are so slapstick that they take the edge off the scares, they take the edge off the gore. You know, with this Final Destination shit of this girl getting table-sawed through her brain, it really takes the edge off in that sense.
WH: You’re a horror fan yourself then, clearly?
AS: I love horror movies. I really do. I’m a huge fan of the blood and the guts, I really am, I love all of it. And that’s why I was so happy to do a movie like this that kind of turns those horror norms on their heads a little bit. We’re not just a bunch of girls in bras and panties running around screaming, we’re actually the ones killing people. And enjoying it!
WH: Do you think the future of horror is female? We’re currently seeing a lot of female-led genre movies and strong female characters in general, too, across the board.
AS: I think that it’s totally female. One, because women are never going to be as basic as just throwing on a ski mask and running around with a machete. We’re gonna be more in depth about it, but you’re gonna get chopped up! [laughs] I think that there’s a lot to be said about leading women in scary movies. And I think there’s more to be done on that end. And I hope that whenever you’ve got a really strong female lead in a horror movie it’s not as typical, you don’t necessarily know what they’re going to do next.
WH: It’s often easier to sell a strong female lead in a horror movie.
AS: In my opinion, yeah, absolutely. I feel like I would I much rather see that, you know?
WH: For sure. Your director was saying as well that audiences, especially for horror movies, are predominantly young females. And people don’t realise that, so they’re not really being catered to as a result. He wants Tragedy Girls to tap into that market. Do you think that’s why it’s been so popular with festival audiences thus far?
AS: Yeah, I think absolutely it’s done well because there are a lot of female nerds out there. But also there hasn’t been anything like this in a really long time. A movie that’s going to make you laugh, freak you out, it’s really twisted, you’re rooting for the heroes and they’re not even heroes. But you’re rooting for them. You don’t want them to get caught, you want them to continue what they’re doing. I think that’s why people respond to it so well, because they’re really admirable but at the same time you want to make excuses for how terrible they are as human beings. But you can’t, and there’s something so terrible and sadistic about that.
WH: Your friendship with Brianna Hildebrand’s Sadie is at the centre of the whole movie, it’s the dark heart of it almost. How did you guys go about creating that natural chemistry? Watching the movie it really feels as though you’ve been friends forever.
AS: Brianna and I had met on the Comic Con circuit, being both X-Men characters [Hildebrand starred as Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool, while Shipp played Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse], and we really hit it off. She works a lot and I’ve been fortunate over the past few years to be really busy, too. I was just like “man, whenever I get the chance to do a movie with this girl, I know I’m gonna have fun, because she’s a good time!” It’s really great to work with people that you actually like. So we sat down and we read the script cover to cover and we were like “this is the movie for us” and we made a little sister pact [to do it]. And then when we were shooting in Kentucky, we not only lived together but we also had some one-on-one time with Tyler to really go through the characters, figure out where these girls came from, and how that equates to where they are now. Because you kind of pick them up in the middle of their journey, in the middle of their arc. Everyone was on the same page, we were able to come up with little beats, little character traits, but nothing compares to when you’re walking on set in costume and you’re about to start to filming and the set is dressed and there’s blood everywhere…it’s just great to all be on the same page and just sit there and riff. Tyler was so wonderful, he would be open to our suggestions for different things to try.
WH: When I spoke to him, I asked if he thinks Tragedy Girls is feminist. He said it absolutely is. What do you think?
AS: I think the film is definitely feminist. Definitely. This is a movie that says not only can girls be crazy but they can be insanely good at being serial killers as well. They’re so smart about it. With me, I’m like “oh you got an axe? Just kill ‘em with an axe!” But they do it differently every damn time, they’re so smart about it! [laughs]
WH: It’s like equal opportunities for serial killers.
WH: What’s up next for you? You’ve got another X-Men movie soon, right?
AS: Yes, I just finished on Dark Phoenix. But the next movie I’ve got coming out is called Love, Simon, which I’m really excited about because it’s a coming of age story about a young gay teenager. And what really attracted me to this movie was it’s the first time a big studio [FOX] has taken on a pro-LGBTQ character, especially one that’s in high school. It makes people laugh, it makes people cry, it pisses us off, it’s just such a great movie all round and I’m so excited for everyone to see it.
Catch Tragedy Girls in theaters from October 20, 2017