Just over 130 reviews around I covered the Lucky McKee directed film The Woman. I really liked that sick little piece of work and so have had my eyes on his follow up All Cheerleaders Die for some time. Last night I spotted it was on Netflix, wondered how long it had been there and why I hadn’t noticed, and then figured I should probably stop staring at the website itself and just start staring at the film instead. This was a good choice. Click below for my review.
All Cheerleaders Die is a film that pulls a little bit of a From Dusk Til Dawn on us. By which, I mean, it begins clearly in one genre but then takes a sudden left turn into something all the more supernatural. The film starts with Maddy Killian (Caitlin Stacy) plotting revenge against high school captain Terry Stankus (Tom Williamson). At first you believe this is because of his involvement with a cheerleader called Tracy (Brooke Butler) right after the recent accidental death of his previous girlfriend whom Maddy was friends with and making a film about. There’s more to it than that. Her plan involves infiltrating the cheerleader squad and manipulating events to make a fool of Terry in whatever way she can. Things are going fairly well until her, Tracy and sisters Hannah (Amanda Grace Cooper) and Martha Popkin (Reanin Johannink) are chased off the road and into a river by Terry and his fellow football team members after things got a little/a lot out of hand. The girls all die and, as you’d expect at this point in any teen high school drama, they’re all resurrected by a classmate that is also a bit of a witch, Leena Miller (Sianoa Smit-McPhee). Now they’re undead and loving it and the plot for revenge on Terry just got stepped up to a supernatural team effort.
Lucky McKee’s directing duties have been shared this time with Chris Sivertson, probably best known for directing I Know Who Killed me. Whilst this is a shared effort the film really does feel like the work of Lucky McKee. His subversion of genre, normalcy and observations on American cult mentality is threaded throughout almost every shot. A large amount of the film focuses on the cults of cheerleaders and jocks, not exactly new, but there’s a brutal honesty to some of it. For example, Terry is an absolute piece of shit and parallels up with horror stories of the male high school jocks I have read of in articles regarding the darker elements of teen life in America. As the film moves along events take a turn to the left when you expect them to go right.
Music is tonally in a place that, rather than score action, prefers to score the tension. At times the dark rumbles of unsettling low bass reminded me of the music found in Mulholland Drive. Even with those darker musical tones the film will jump to using a rock song to underscore a moment, such as when the girls return to school the day after their death all rocking the hell out of their cheerleader outfits and feeling better than ever. Later a romantic them is played as two characters literally race towards the finale as one steals a moment of comfort from the friend she loves. If this all sounds like a tonal mess, that’s because it very well could be. But it isn’t. There’s a tipping point for a film where the shifting of tones and styles can create a tone and style all of its own, like how Raimi fuses horror with comedy on the fly. All Cheerleaders Die is like that in some sort of hyperactive overdrive. Whilst this can lead to scenes some jarring moments the scenes maintain their narrative focus and the story is always being propelled forwards.
The sharp witted dialogue is coupled with some cleverly crafted writing that manages to constantly be sneaking tiny little pieces of character information to you in a manner you don’t see often enough these days. A simple bit of dialogue that seems like an aside is actually a clue to a larger element of the story, such as Leena’s desperate attempts to explain the condition of her cat Madeline to Maddy early on. Maddy dismisses her upon realising that the cat is named after herself, citing a past relationship with with Leena. But pay attention to the broken sentences in the midst of the argument and you’ll notice that Leena has told you, rather briefly, that the cat had been brought back to life. Basically setting you up for the later resurrection. It’s simple stuff but so many films would have made a whole scene out of just that fact in order to make sure that you all got it. McKee and Sivertson have faith that you will catch it and the scene be allowed to continue without holding the plot to ransom.
Can you tell that I quite like All Cheerleaders Die? It reminds me a lot of the kinds of cult high school horror films I ate up in my teenage years, which was in the last century… that sucks. Films such as Idle Hands, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The Faculty for example, were favourites of mine despite being flawed in many, many ways. All Cheerleaders Die is like visiting a more mature, in terms of production and writing, version of those films that still revels in the schlocky and silly. It doesn’t care if it’s filling scenes with the fetishisation of high school girls in cheerleader outfits because by doing so, and by making the characters much more rounded, it is commenting on the very nature of the mass marketed films that do exactly that without providing these women with actual personalities. Hannah and Martha, for example, trade off multiple elements of a sibling relationship early on, with Hannah being the less popular one, often confined to a mascot suit. When resurrected their bodies are swapped which, other than summing up the entirety of Freaky Friday in a sub-plot,provides a chance for the nature of the sister’s wants, desires and relationship to be laid bare in ways many films, that aren’t body swap comedies, wouldn’t be able to explore. That sort of element can only work in a film willing to disregard restraint without making it be the whole film.
To close, as some news that just broke has made me not feel like writing much more, All Cheerleaders Die is an extremely fun film that has enough meat on its bones to not be brain dead, isn’t ashamed of its schlocky theme and is constantly surprising with it’s swerves against expectation. Some may struggle with it, but if you enjoy the more reckless side of film making you’ll likely get a lot of enjoyment from this.