One of the most unique and enjoyable films to rise up through the ranks within the horror-comedy genre this year is director Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls. A twist on the slasher movie, it follows two death-obsessed teenage girls who use their online show about real-life tragedies to send their small Midwestern town into a frenzy, in an attempt to cement their legacy as modern horror legends.
Brianna Hildebrand (best known as Negasonic Teenage Warhead from Deadpool) and Alexandra Shipp (who played Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse, and will do so again in next year’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix) star as Sadie and McKayla, the terrible pair who begin a mini-killing spree in the hopes of kicking their social media profiles into the stratosphere.
Among those who float into (and potentially out of) their lives are Josh Hutcherson, Jack Quaid, and Craig Robinson [“The Office” the Hot Tub Time Machine movies, currently on Fox’s “Ghosted”], as the town’s extra-sexy fire chief, Big Al. The film is smart, has a sly knowledge of horror films it isn’t afraid to reference along the way, and features wickedly funny performances from Shipp and Hildebrand. I sat down with the pair and Robinson (also a producer on the film) in March at the SXSW Film Festival to talk about Tragedy Girls and how to find redeeming qualities in high school students bent on shedding blood.
The film is playing the midnight slots at the Music Box Theatre on Friday, Nov. 24, and Saturday, Nov. 25. Please enjoy…
I should tell you, I saw your Sundance film last year, The First Girl I Loved.
Brianna Hildebrand: The First Girl I Loved, yeah.
Craig knows, I help program a film festival in Chicago, and we had actually your film and his movie Morris From America there. Dylan [Gelula, her co-star] came out. The audience really took to it. It was a really awesome experience.
BH: Cool! That’s great.
So let’s talk about Tragedy Girls. Initially, what was it about these bizarre, maybe not entirely likable characters that you remember thinking, “Yeah, I can get into this and really build on that.” What did you dig about these ladies?
BH: I honestly just really liked that both of the characters seemed sure of who they were and strong, whether or not that meant they were being ridiculous.
As misguided as it might be.
BH: Right. That’s what I loved about it. So when I read it, I was like, “Oh, this girl is strong; her friend’s strong; they are in this.”
Alexandra Shipp: Yeah, they’re confident.
BH: Obviously, the more I read the more I was like “Wow, we’re stretching it here.” Then I read more and I was thinking that it could be really great, or it could be not so great. I think honestly, I watched it a couple of weeks ago, and I think it all came together so well—the tone of the movie is perfect and the message of the movie.
AS: For me, I’ve always wanted to kill people [laughs], but I don’t like the sight of blood and guts, so I was looking for that role that made sense. I wanted to kill people but not for real-zies. And I sat down with Tyler and I thought “This guy is fucking nuts. He’s just as crazy as me, and he likes all the blood,” and we loved so many of the same slasher movies, and I was like “He’s going to do this, and he’s going to make it gory and hilarious, and I need to be a part of that.” For me, I loved reading the killing scenes and I loved the relationship and the banter that they have, and I knew that before I could even take on the role, I needed to sit down and read it out loud, and we did, and I was like “Yeah, okay. 100 percent. It’s so perfect. It only makes sense. We are the only Sadie and McKayla in this world, and we’re going to have to do it.”
There have certainly been many comedy-horror films in which the people in them are very aware of horror movies, but your characters are more about serial killers, and not so much about the movies, necessarily. They’re about the real people.
AS: They don’t want to see fake pictures. They want to see like screen grabs or photos from actual crime scenes.
Were you cast together, or did you have to do a chemistry test at some point? How did they bring the two of you into a room for the first time?
BH: I think we were cast together.
AS: We got sent the script, we read it.
BH: I think you were on before I was on.
AS: I thought you were on before I was on [laughs].
BH: Ok, maybe we were cast together. That makes more sense. It’s a good point.
[The director is also in the room and chimes in that Alexandra was cast and immediately suggested Brianna, who was already in the running, for the other role.]
AS: That makes total sense. We had already met.
I was going to ask if the fact that the two of you were both in this X-MEN universe had anything to do with the fact that you were paired up here?
AS: It didn’t, but it only added to it. We did Comic-Con together, and I was like, “Oh my god, this bitch is great.” And they were like, “Do you want to do a movie with her?” And I was like, “Obviously, I want to do a movie with her.” Then this made so much sense, and I was like, “Let’s read it out loud.” Then we read it out loud, then I was like, “What do I have to do to be a part of this?”
Craig, I think your calling is coming to light—you’ve played teachers before. Didn’t you do it on your TV show?
AS: He’s like Yoda.
Craig Robinson: Yeah, I was on “Mr. Robinson,” but I used to be a school teacher, so that’s how that spilled over.
CR: Yeah, K-8, music teacher in Chicago.
You play a fire chief in this film, but you’re at the school a lot, and I guess we could say that since almost everybody in this movie dies that you have a spectacular death. It might be my favorite one, actually.
CR: Thank you. Thank Tyler.
It’s not just gory, it’s daylight gory.
CR: Don’t give spoilers!
I won’t say what happens, but how much of a part of that were you actually involved with?
CR: It was all scripted.
Did you insist on having a great death, at least?
CR: No, no, it was all scripted, it was all like from the mind of Tyler, and I just followed the program.
AS: We had a good time that day.
CR: We had a lot of fun. The prosthetics were amazing.
BH: The prosthetics were so fun to play with.
AS: Those blood boys were so good. They had the best gore stuff. They built his face, and it was so good.
BH: I don’t know why I didn’t expect it to be so fun, but it was.
AS: It was so much fun. That’s what I’m saying, if it was real, I would have fainted 100 times, but because I knew it was sucrose I was like, [mimes licking fake blood off her hands].
You’re taking part in these killings and not just observing them and capturing them for posterity. That’s a big jump for these girls to make, to make this happen so they can make it perfect. You said something before about the message of the film. What is the message of the film exactly?
AS: I think the message of the film is that kids these days are really obsessed with social media, and they’ll do anything to become famous, and you hear this a lot and you see this a lot, whether it’s 12-year-olds trying to make themselves look like Kim Kardashian, or it’s little boys who think that sexual harassment is okay. Social media bleeds into everything.
I remember when I was a kid, the worst thing you would see was on the news. Now you can Google it, now you can hashtag it. Our characters will do anything for fame to the point where they’ll kill people. Granted, it’s a total overstep. We’re blowing it out of proportion for movie magic, but I think that it really is a divine 2 x 4, like “Hey guys, don’t forget that social media isn’t necessarily everything.”
So you do see it as a cautionary tale to a certain degree?
AS: It’s socially commentative.
BH: Yeah, maybe. When I read it for the first time, that’s one of the things I took away from it was how much social media can actually take you out of reality and put you in this other world even if you’re not constantly on your phone, but you’re subconsciously thinking about it or about your status or about how many people are watching you. That’s definitely the big thing I took away.
AS: How many takes of the photo.
BH: Right, how many selfies you have to take to get it perfect.
Craig, how did you get involved with this?
CR: My team brought it to me and said this is an opportunity for you to produce. They said these girls were in it, and it was like, “Yes.” And they were like, “Well here, check this part out.” “Okay, I can stretch my chops out a little bit, get into the ‘horroromedy’.”
BH: “Horroromedy”. It’s a horroromedy.
CR: Horroromedy genre.
BH: I thought “corror” sounded a little pornographic.
CR: Horror comedy. Horroromedy. She coined that today.
BH: Yeah, copyright. I was going to call it a hor-com, but I don’t think that’s appropriate.
AS: Yeah, that sounds like “whore con,” like it’s a convention for whores. And that is basically me and my girlfriends every Saturday night.
Even though there is a love story tucked into this story, the real relationship is between you two, because you guys go through the whole gamut—friends, breakup, jealousy, the whole thing, then a reunion. Talk about just getting to run through that aspect of it, because that is a really different way of looking at a horror film. It’s more than just a buddy picture, with actual emotions involved.
AS: Yeah, and I think a feminine love, I mean, no offense to men, but I think a feminine love is a lot deeper. It’s not just like, “Yeah, girl, let’s go throw the ball.” [laughs]
BH: It’s so much more. They really love each other.
AS: Right, no offense to men. Some of y’all can get deep. But I think that the idea that I’m going to be around no matter how many dudes you’re with, it doesn’t matter. I’m still going to be here, I’m still going to be a common thread, I’m still going to be there. That type of love is something that McKayla really felt for Sadie, to the point where it’s almost territorial. For me, I wanted to play on the fact that she is very so much in love with her best friend, and I’ve been that and I am in love with my best friends, because that love is some real shit. It goes deeper than any relationship. They’ll be around.
CR: Do you have any idea how much courage it takes to ask your bro to go throw the ball?
You can’t just do that with anybody.
CR: Yeah, it’s not that simple.
AS: Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s not as black and white as I thought it was. I really should have found some colors with that.
These girls are doing deplorable things, there’s no getting around it, but we’re still rooting for them, we still want them to survive all this. In the performance, how do you sort of temper the terrible things they’re doing and saying to still make us like them?
BH: I think one thing that’s really important about people and characters is that if you try to make a character likable, she’s probably not going to be likable. I think what’s really going to be likable is people being real and relatable and seeing that people maybe have these huge flaws. It probably makes people feel like, “You know what? It’s ok. I fucked up.”
AS: “I stabbed him. I stabbed one person.”
BH: Yeah, I think that is a part of it. I think you can’t write a character to be liked; you should just play a character real, and people end up liking them.
AS: Or they don’t.
BH: Or they don’t, and that’s even more fun.
Can you each tell me what you’re up to next? I know you’re up to something.
BH: Yes. Yes.
AS: Right now I’m working on a movie called Love, Simon. It’s pretty cool. It’s the first time a major studio film is doing a pro-gay youth movie, which is really great, and we’re changing the narrative and we’re changing the way people see others and we’re doing it in a really beautiful way and it’s a project that’s really close to me, so I’m really excited.
Brianna, are you doing anything before you jump into the next Deadpool movie?
BH: It seems as though not [laughs].
You were trying, but it didn’t quite work out?
BH: Something like that. It seems as though straight into Deadpool 2 we go. I’m still excited about it, so it’s okay.
What about you, Craig?
CR: I’m about to shoot a pilot called “Ghosted” with Adam Scott, written by Tom Gormican. It’s like a comedy “X-Files” thing. It’s for Fox. I just finished a movie called An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn [starring Aubrey Plaza], where I play a singer who sings at these rundown hotels who is influenced by Scottish culture and who is co-dependent with another man.
Best of luck.
BH: Thank you.
AS: Thank you so much.