The SXSW Film Festival has always been a welcome place for offbeat, outside-the-box filmmaking, and this year’s event was no exception, with the Midnighters category once again playing host to several promising premieres. Among those selections was Tragedy Girls, a horror-comedy hybrid about a pair of teen girls whose obsession with social media celebrity culture manifests in some dangerous ways.
We sat down with writer/director Tyler MacIntyre and star Jack Quaid for a brief chat at SXSW, just a few hours before the world premiere screening of Tragedy Girls, to discuss the timeliness of the film’s themes and the exciting changes to the genre film landscape.
How are you feeling about the world premiere tonight?
Tyler MacIntyre: I’m just excited to see it in front of an audience, because I’ve been working in a vacuum. I mean, we tested it and whatnot, but the crowds here are always so energetic, and a movie always plays better with people who are excited to see it.
Jack Quaid: I saw the movie for the first time the other night, and the first thing I said to myself was “oh, this is perfect for a midnight screening in Austin, Texas.”
Tyler MacIntyre: Yeah, there’s such a culture built up here, with the Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest and SXSW, and that kind of it do-it-yourself genre filmmaking has a lot of pride here. There’s a lot of history here, and a lot of great titles have come out of here, so we were really excited that we were invited to premiere here.
Jack Quaid: He called me and told me over the phone, and I screamed. I was literally in the car on the freeway, screaming. And I was just over the moon, because this is the best possible place for this kind of movie to have its world premiere.
There’s a certain sort of buzz and energy here that some other festivals don’t seem to have.
Jack Quaid: Yeah, there’s definitely a fun factor here that’s really contagious.
Tyler MacIntyre: I used to live in Toronto, and I love TIFF and I think they do a great job with their midnight program, but over here there’s just this kind of fun-loving vibe, and our movie fits that a little better. And the mood here is very flexible: some people are here for film, some are here for music and interactive, and you’ve got a lot of different artists coming together, and I really appreciate that it’s not a stuffy “film festival.”
Jack Quaid: I’m not wearing a tie right now, and I feel great.
The subject matter of this film, the obsession with social media and becoming an online celebrity – obviously, that’s something very relevant in our culture right now. What elements of that kind of obsession did you want to ensure you captured?
Tyler MacIntyre: Well, I wanted it to be an accurate portrayal of social media, but I also like the idea of equating this kind of narcissistic social media culture, with actual sociopathic narcissism, and playing with that in the conventions of a more traditional horror movie, using tropes and manipulating them to see if we can create a satire that has some resonance. Twitter itself is kind of like a crazy, violent place to interact with people…
Jack Quaid: It’s very volatile.
Tyler MacIntrye: Some of the nicest people I know are comedians who have Twitter accounts, and become vicious people at the drop of a hat. And it seems even much more topical now than it did when we were writing it, because the world has kind of shifted to rely on that even more. But I thought it would be interesting to tell a story that pointed very directly at how the way we interact with social media can disassociate us from actual, real-world violence.
As you said, this feels even more topical now, because we have a Commander in Chief who uses Twitter as his primary source of communication. And that’s really bizarre to think about.
Tyler MacIntyre: Totally! There’s actually a line in our movie where someone says “real journalism is based on facts, not hashtags.” And now I’m like, “well, that used to be true.”
Jack, what was it about this script that made you want to be a part of the project?
Jack Quaid: Actually, at first it was just Tyler. I’ve worked with Tyler for a long time – I have a sketch comedy group, and he’s directed several of our sketches. I’ve always loved working with the guy, so when he called me and said he was working on this thing called Tragedy Girls, that was the key. And then I read the script, and that was the other thing, because it was incredible.
It’s good to be part of a movie that’s very different from other horror movies or comedies that are out there, and I really wanted to be part of something that was different, that wasn’t the same thing we’ve seen again and again. I wanted to part of something that was enjoyable and fun to watch, and I could tell all of that was there from the script.
That’s something so great about what’s happening with horror films now, because you have things like The Final Girls that can take some of those tropes and really play with them.
Jack Quaid: That’s why I love Cabin in the Woods, or even Get Out – it really played with a lot of those tropes.
Tyler MacIntyre: Get Out is absolutely amazing.
Jack Quaid: It’s brilliant!
Tyler MacIntyre: Yeah, knowing all of those tropes is something this movie really relies on, because I like the idea of an intelligent audience. No one is picking up this movie and its the first movie they’re ever watching – everyone is coming in with a set of expectations.
Jack Quaid: Also, this should be no one’s first movie.
Tyler MacIntyre: Yeah, as a general rule, that’s true. But everyone grows up with movies and gets immersed in them, so then you’re set up with these very normal narratives, and that gives you a whole new frontier. Try to set people up with those expectations and make them comfortable, get them to commit to the story, and then take them somewhere they’ve never been before.
And I think genre film is a great place to do that, because as long as you check certain boxes, you always have a reliable audience, so you can experiment. There’s always been intelligent horror, but it’s been hard to find, and now you have places like Blumhouse that are proving those types of films can be commercial, too. So I think it’s a really exciting time for genre.
Tragedy Girls premiered in the Midnighters category at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.