All Cheerleaders Die is 90 minutes of cheerleaders, football players, pool parties, peer pressure, popularity contests, long blond curly hair, short skirts and low tops, muscular teenage pectorals, goofy jokes, shining white teeth and… neck-breaking, blood sucking, zombie witches..? And it’s actually rather subversive of the genre too? Count me in!
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Showing this week at Film4’s FrightFest 2014 (as previewed here and here by Mike Shawcross), All Cheerleaders Die could quite easily be misinterpreted as a typical supernatural teen slasher film. It has hot cheerleaders, cool football players and a strong revenge theme driving the characters to murder and cause general mayhem. A bit of blood splatter here, some lesbian kissing there, add a smidgen of social anxiety from the lonely goth-girl and you’ve basically dreamt up the premise for the majority of the supernatural slasher genre since Carrie first crawled out of the broom closet nearly 40 years ago. It would be understandable for someone to brush off All Cheerleaders Die without seeing it, assuming that it’s just another typical teen movie in a long line of generic girls-gone-wild horrors.
The thing is, it isn’t a typical teen horror. In fact, what joint writer and director combo Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson are actually doing with this remake of their first ever collaboration, straight out of college back in 2001, is purposely taking these well worn tropes (the fit young football captain, the popular head cheerleader, the girl trying to fit in to enact a secret revenge plan etc) and bursting them open, exposing a pliable core.
It would be wrong of me to accuse McKee and Sivertson of resorting to mocking or parodying genre films such as Urban Legend, Sorority Row or any of their ilk. The impression given is that these movies can actually be enjoyable as what they are, but their plan is to strip back all of the layers of garbage piled on the genre through the years piece by piece and build up something new in its place. There’s a well maintained level of respect for the genre carried through its run time. Of course, it’s a genre not without its flaws. Flaws such as rampant sexism and chauvinism, unattainably high statuses within peer groups encouraging bullying, that sort of thing. The subversion of these clichés is what appears to be the target of this film whilst keeping some familiar order; something it both achieves and very occasionally reluctantly falls back to.
But that’s what the film is trying to do, not what it’s actually about, so let’s take a look at what is going on with the story. The plot revolves around Maddy (played by Australian actress Caitlin Stasey), a slightly cantankerous high-schooler, as she infiltrates a group of highly strung, snooty, stuck-up cheerleaders. In her mind, she perceives them as lacking any responsibility over the death of her friend during a freak cheerleading accident. She becomes especially irate when discovering a few of the group have started sleeping with Terry (Tom Williamson), the school football team captain and ex-boyfriend of her recently deceased chum. Gradually Maddy begins to form real friendships with these girls, observing them as people rather than just the stereotypical airheads she assumed they’d be. It’s almost like it’s subverting your expectations of what the film would be like, huh?
During a party, things get saucy just before they get out of hand and a dark side to Terry is revealed. Things go from bad to worse when the cheerleaders are killed in a car crash brought on by the fight, before Maddy’s ex-girlfriend-come-stalker Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) in her grief decides to resurrect the team using her witch powers. Not quite the same as they were before, the once-dead cheerleaders require blood to keep them alive and begin exacting revenge on the men responsible for their demise.
You can see what I mean. Immediate impressions are not particularly positive. However, there’s humour in abundance amongst some rather dark subcontext that floated throughout the film. Ideas of gender conformities are flirted with and boundaries are broken, but in its rush to address all manner of issues, it does leave itself drifting in the shallow end of the pool on more than one occasion. A sexual awakening for Tracey (Brooke Butler) initially serves as little more than titillation, but serves a broader purpose of emasculating the male characters. The unwritten rule of most cheap and lazy horror films, that men hold power over women, and the objectification of them is handled with all the grace of a Paul Scholes slide-tackle, but there’s something to be respected in its approach.
Essentially though, the biggest audience it will attract are of course horror fans and the public gets what the public wants. Similarly to 2012’s Detention, there’s a deeper context to it if you look for it, but if not, it’s also an entertaining horror in its own right. There’s gory death scenes, violent revenge is enacted by zombie women who suck the blood from some dickhead jocks. It’s the best of both worlds!
All Cheerleaders Die will be released in the UK on DVD on 13 October 2014, or if you were lucky enough to get tickets to FrightFest 2014 you can catch it on the big screen there tomorrow (22 August)!