Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
June 2014

All Cheerleaders Die

School of the living dead

It's superhuman undead cheerleaders vs. jocks in the strangely lifeless 'All Cheerleaders Die'

All Cheerleaders Die
Image Entertainment
Director: Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson
Screenplay: Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson
Starring: Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Tom Williamson, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, Leigh Parker and Michael Bowen
Not rated / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

There's something missing from All Cheerleaders Die - or a vague combination of somethings - that prevents it from coming to full bloom as the kind of irresistible B-movie it really wants to be. Yes, it's maddeningly uneven, and yes, it sloppily mishandles many of its characters; but those criticisms are almost beside the point. Or beside the larger point, anyway, which is that the filmmakers never transform their fun central ideas into a finished product with its own flavor or purpose.

For a movie that, on paper, seems wildly idiosyncratic, it sure doesn't play out like that. It's as if Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson began by superimposing their ideas onto a generic teen-movie template, but then never got around to doing anything with the template itself. So what we're left with is a host of stock teen characters that never get beyond their stock value. They serve less as characters than as blank placeholders used to advance a story that isn't, and cannot be, interesting in and of itself. Did McKeee and Sivertson think they were satirizing high-school prototypes and cliques? Because they most certainly are not - at least not in any way that hasn't been done to death since the 1980s.

The filmmakers narrow their focus primarily to two segments of high-school Americana - football players and cheerleaders. But even within that limited framework, there's nothing about these cheerleaders or these football players that can stand on its own. These are little more than a collection of clichés in a film that refuses to examine them in any more detail or in any greater context. The script posits a hierarchy in which football players - at least, the most popular ones - primarily date (and/or sleep with) cheerleaders, and in which those two social circles are almost perpetually intertwined. Almost every other stereotype or group is either ignored or embedded into the personality profile of one of the athletes.

So was there any thought about examining how these groups fit into this particular high-school ecosystem? Or exploiting the tropes these characters represent? Or getting creative with all the sexual dynamics at play? Was there any thought of satire or subversion? Unfortunately not, it seems. This is a movie content to simply replicate what we expect from a high-school horror-comedy rather than do anything special with it.

And so, we get the perky, bitchy blonde at the head of the cheerleading squad. We get the Good Girl, the Final Girl, the Goth Girl. The alpha-male captain of the football team, the fresh-faced quarterback, the stoner.

When the film begins, we're focusing on another character entirely - Alexis (Felisha Cooper), the captain of the cheerleading team, who breaks her neck and dies after a freak accident during practice. The following school year, her close friend Maddy (Caitlin Stasey*), who was filming Alexis for a documentary when the accident took place, has decided to turn devious and vengeful - particularly toward the aforementioned football captain, Terry (Tom Williamson), who has moved on from Alexis' death quite quickly and is now dating the perky blonde, Tracy (Brooke Butler). She sets an elaborate revenge plan in motion, which involves joining the cheerleading squad, gaining Tracy's confidence, spreading a false cheating rumor about Terry, and seducing Tracy in the process. Meanwhile, Maddy's former girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) - a witch, or at least an aspiring one - grows increasingly jealous and worried.

* Before seeing the actress's name in the closing credits, I would have pegged Caitlin Stasey as possibly a third Mara sister. She looks a bit like a combination of Kate and Rooney, and she has the presence and unforced acting manner to match.

But things go wildly, spectacularly awry one night. After an evening of drunkenness and petty high-school drama, the footballers pile into their car and - with Terry at the wheel - run the girls off the road and into a ravine, leaving them for dead. And dead they are - until, that is, Leena comes along, and uses her magic to bring them back to life.

With a catch. They're, like, kind of vampires now. They don't have the teeth for it, and sunlight doesn't seem to be a problem - but they do have superhuman strength and a need to feed on human flesh. So perhaps a combination of vampire and zombie.

Though a couple of the football players are among the girls' first victims, All Cheerleaders Die doesn't play like much of a revenge tale, nor a satire, nor an action movie. It kind of changes its mind from scene to scene. There's a lot of fertile material to play with here - I didn't even mention the body-switching subplot that goes hand-in-hand with the girls' reanimation - but it all falls strangely flat. There's something endearing about what McKee and Sivertson are going for, and even specific scenes and performances. But their ultimate intentions for this movie are lost in an uninspired muddle of hackneyed high-school clichés.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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