Director: Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson
Cast: Caitlin Stasey, Brooke Butler, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, Tom Williamson
Plot: After a gruesome death of a cheerleader, Maddy decides to infiltrate the cheerleader circuit and tear the group apart. Meanwhile, a footballer goes on a power craze and an apprentice witch is heartbroken…
All Cheerleaders Die is about three movies spliced into one. It starts off with a treasured cheerleader dying (the introduction sequence ends fantastically), and her quiet friend, Maddy, setting off on a personal vendetta to bring down the other cheerleaders, scorned at their quick recovery of their supposed best friend’s death. It kind of becomes an independent Mean Girls, dissecting the political and back-stabbing brutality behind high school life. Boys are potential sexual predators, their only vaguely redeeming feature being that they are too stupid to quite realise how nasty they are. The cheerleaders are a more interesting bunch. Brooke Butler plays the first half of the movie terrifically, so the audience is never sure if she is a genuinely good person, or if that is just the persona her high school popular girl chooses to wear around others. The joy in this moment also comes from the fact that we are unsure where the directors are going with the idea. We know from the DVD that there is something supernatural and horror-esque around the corner and as Maddy begins to pull strings around the cheerleaders’ lives, we are intrigued to figure out where this game ends, especially with Sianoa Smit-McPhee’s mysterious wicca student hovering on the side-lines. Then the movie changes tack and becomes an I Know What You Did Last Summer sort of movie. There is a tragic accident and the surviving characters end up reacting in unexpected ways to the drunken crime. And finally, All Cheerleaders Die finds its true feet and becomes a horror/comedy about a bunch of witches/zombies/vampires (to keep things fresh, All Cheerleaders Die splice the three and come up with an interesting new horror movie monster), making their way through high school life and pondering where to go now that they are technically monsters. It is amusing, neatly parodies the Mean Girl side of things from earlier and ends in an unpredictable climax.
The problem with this movie is that in being three different movies, it gets a little messy and bloated. I loved the story of Maddy slipping into the ranks of cheerleaders and manipulating high school life, yet that side of things does little for the second half of the film. If anything, it helps develop the five girls who become the centre of the movie, but narrative-wise, there is a sense that we could have hit the fast-forward button over these scenes. Mainly, this is because the ending is so different from the opening that it jars slightly. I loved the way this movie ended up like an anti-superhero (super-villain?) origin story that took the time to make sharp-eyed jokes on the horror and high school movie genre. I can happily say that there is not one scene of this film that is bad; it all works in its own way. But it doesn’t work together. It comes across as a story that gets bored with itself every three scenes and drops a massive change in tone. Even the final ten minutes get so dark and bleak that the fun side of the horror comedy seems a little off-kilter in retrospect. The truth is that if the first half was trimmed into becoming the opening thirty minutes and the directors made the second half a good hour of smartly-written jokes, then All Cheerleaders Die would be even stronger. The shocking ending would have been a fitting finale, as it would have been properly built up and every side of this film would satisfy, rather than coming across as a car that cannot quite get out of second gear.
However, while the script is a little shaky, the acting and direction is excellent. From the first few seconds of All Cheerleaders Die, you know you are with a group of guys that know what they are doing. The editing is fantastic, getting the necessary exposition across to us in a fast-paced yet digestible way. The camera quality is better than I have seen from an independent movie in quite some time and it is used with precision. Certain moments are excellent, particularly as the five girls, believed dead, return to school, in a slow-mo sequence with a great backing song. It is everything we want from this movie. The acting is great too. The problem with these types of movies is that they sometime get so concerned with having their female characters in revealing cheerleader outfits that the directors don’t bother with the acting or development side of things. Thankfully this is not the case here, making All Cheerleaders Die instantly better than any of its competitors. Caitlin Stasey is a strong lead, her character always looking like she is sitting on a darker side that is moments from erupting. Tom Williamson makes for a good baddie too. So much development is put into the girls that the male characters suffer from weak characterisation. Are they nasty or just in a situation out of their control? Williamson is the worst of them all, but at the very least the character just decides to own the bad guy role, rather than sitting on the fence. It gives us a character to focus our rage on and gives the final bit of the story the kick it needs. My favourite cast member was Amanda Grace Cooper, though. She starts off as the younger sister of one of the cheerleaders, hanging around the cool kids, yet always being ignored by both the girls and the guys she wants to impress. At first, she seems like the butt of a few cheap jokes (while the cheerleaders strut their stuff, she is trapped in a mascot suit), but thanks to a side-plot that at first seems like another useless tacked-on strand of story but eventually makes brilliantly perfect sense, she ends up switching bodies with her older sister. Suddenly the older, bitchier sister is trapped in Amanda Grace Cooper’s body and Reanin Johannink gets to play the shy girl that is suddenly thrown into the hottest body in school. Both actresses relish the change in pace, especially Cooper who is fantastic as the popular girl suddenly stuck in the body of the girl no one takes notice of (like the mascot outfit from earlier – #symbolism). Cooper finishes the movie, as this character always bursting with anger and contempt, making for some great outbursts of pure malice that show promise for the young actress.
Then there is the finale. All Cheerleaders Die will earn a lot of praise just for doing the complete opposite of what you expect from the material. Things go out of control fast (perhaps too fast – again, the girls have only just got their new powers before their character arcs are quickly tied up), and every beat offers a brutal new surprise. A death using bear traps is deliciously gruesome and that final frame is the stuff of pure brilliance. If there really is a sequel, maybe the mismatched pacing could be forgiven, as All Cheerleaders Die becomes some sort of trilogy you could marathon in an evening, making sense as a whole, rather than isolated parts.
Final Verdict: Like the characters, All Cheerleaders Die suffers a bit of an identity crisis, but it is made with enough smarts and laughs to make it an instant cult classic.