Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson
Writer: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson
Producer: Andrew van den Houten, Robert Tonino
Stars: Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Tom Williamson, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, Nicholas S. Morrison, Chris Petrovski, Leigh Parker, Jordan Wilson, Felisha Cooper, Michael Bowen
Aided by the power of mysterious Wiccan stones, a high school cheer squad plots their revenge against the football players who wronged them.
Bitchy cheer squad captain. Self-centered football jock. Misfit goth loner with black eyeliner, and pimple-faced nerd who is the brunt of the hot girl’s insults. “All Cheerleaders Die” opens on a stage set for a run-of-the-mill romp featuring every tired teen trope imaginable faster than a bored moviegoer can groan, “not another one of these.” Then at the three-minute mark, the movie drops the premise on its head in more ways than one and becomes an unpredictable fright fest of neck twists, sharp turns, and snappy satire.
After a tragic accident permanently sidelines head cheerleader Lexi, her friend Maddy decides to seek surreptitious revenge against the useless athletes and catty cheer squad teammates she feels are responsible. Meanwhile, Blackfoot High is otherwise preoccupied with the usual drama of boyfriend swapping, sexual orientation questioning, and miscellaneous pubescent frustrations that come with being an angst-ridden backbiting teenager in the movies.
At first glance, the pump seems primed for spurting out a vengeful high school horror slasher along the lines of “Prom Night” or “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” (review here). If not that, perhaps a Halloween-themed extended episode of “Degrassi.” But Maddy only gets as far as infiltrating the spirit squad and jamming a wedge between new cheer captain Tracy and bad boy football team leader Terry when things go belly up. Before Maddy can move on to phase two of what was presumably a diabolical plan, the story crashes through a guardrail and literally goes off a cliff. Falling into the chasm with it are any expectations of where it looked like “All Cheerleaders Die” was headed.
A dozen years after the fact, fan favorite filmmakers Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson revisit their seldom-seen 2001 collaboration of the same title for a smirking stab at teen-centric terror peppered with a healthy dash of subversive snark. Their particular brand of humor here is more of the subtle commentary kind rather than the laugh out loud variety. Yet where “All Cheerleaders Die” makes its deepest mark is in the way it frequently jumps genres by incorporating elements of vampirism, zombies, witchcraft, body swapping, straight up murder, and even a Corsican Brothers-like connection between its central characters.
Putting those concepts into perspective by revealing how they fit into the plotline would spoil much of the enjoyment. The main attraction of the film is the wild “wha huh” circuit it runs from one uncertain blind corner to the next.
Considering previous directorial efforts from Lucky McKee in particular, “All Cheerleaders Die” is an interesting variation from the bulk of his body of work. Movies like “May” and “The Woman” carry graver tones regarding misogyny and the perception of relationships between the sexes. “All Cheerleaders Die” is an intentionally more playful film that teases with stereotypes of comely cheerleaders and teenage gender roles, yet remains focused on the escapist entertainment aspect of its themes rather than delving into thoughtful social relevancy.
The tongue-in-cheek nature does result in an at times uneven delivery occasionally upsetting the tempo. One scene at the midpoint skips ahead briefly only to jump immediately backward following a flash of “four minutes earlier” text. Such an out of place moment has its intention muddled when the rest of the narrative plays so straight and to the point. Several characterizations suffer from some other corner cutting, such as chief antagonist Terry. Although he lights up both literally and figuratively during the last act, he is someone that could have benefitted from a beefier personality injection of something less stonefaced.
Then again, “All Cheerleaders Die” is a film with frisky fun on the brain, not a goal of perfecting the subgenres it toys with. At just a few ticks over 80 minutes, the movie is brisk enough that it can pull liberally from an overstuffed bag of ideas without the stalled moments putting the brakes on a spirited momentum. “All Cheerleaders Die” makes an inspired mix out of familiar concepts and unfurls in a manner that is unusual and unexpected, but nearly always entertaining.
Review Score: 75