TIFF 2013 Review: ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE Lets The Good Times Load
When it comes to the ample challenge of squeezing out profit from an indie film, current dogma would have it that titles closer to the start of the alphabet do better on digital VOD platforms. Therefore you'd be forgiven for believing a film with a VOD-tastic title like All Cheerleaders Die might be playing up to the digital crowd. Indeed a movie filled with scantily clad cheerleaders, pot-smoking high schoolers, and all sorts of supernatural horror has plenty to offer those casually browsing for fun-filled flicks. While it can be accused of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you, the movie earns points for going for it. It's silly and it's schlocky, but ultimately All Cheerleaders Die is a true crowd pleaser.
In fact, the title All Cheerleaders Die goes back to long before the VOD marketplace dictated an #ABC-or-bust approach to film titling. Dating back to 2001, an original short film of the same name was the directorial debut of two promising directors: Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson. Though they directed the short as a team, each director went on to spend the next decade directing their own features (most notably McKee's The Woman and Sivertson's I Know Who Killed Me). Now with four solo features apiece, the duo has reformed to finally realize the long form version of the idea that got them started.
As basic ideas go, it's really quite simple. The students of Hardbody High (it's not called that) are mourning the tragic death of the captain of the cheerleading squad, Lexi (Felisha Cooper). Everyone, that is, except the new captain Tracy (Brooke Butler) who is already dating the star football player and dead cheerleader's former boyfriend, Terry (Tom Williamson). Enter our hero Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) who is slightly alternative (meaning slightly dark eye shadow) -- but not nearly as alternative as her weird neighbor Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee, who wears extra dark eye shadow). Maddy cooks up a plan to get back at Tracy and Terry by joining the cheerleading squad, befriending Tracy, and forcing Terry and her apart through lies and cunnilingus.
Things mostly go as planned except the small issue that Maddy and Tracy and some other friends all die.
This allows the fun to really start as the heartbroken Leena calls on mysterious powers of the occult to bring her friend (and the other girls) back from beyond the grave. But in order for the girls to stay among the land of the living, they need a steady diet of human life force. Watch out Hardbody High, these girls have a serious eating disorder.
If this all sounds pretty ridiculous, it is. McKee and Sivertson strike a tenuous balance between playing it straight and outright slapstick. Mostly it works, though numerous scenes have healthy eye-roll potential until you remember it's supposed to be kind of stupid. Unfortunately, a couple jokes take it a bit too far, relying on gags that are downright wrong by today's politically correct standards. But it's mostly all fun and games and nothing is offensive enough to go out picketing the release of the film.
If the rise of the VHS tape in the 1980s ushered in an era of schlocky teen fluff, perhaps the VOD era is on track to do the same. Something feels comfortably familiar about All Cheerleaders Die to those ridiculous but fun genre movies of that era. It's hard to see this blowing up in the cinemas, but when you're lounging on your couch, looking for a little mindless enjoyment, you won't even have to get halfway through the "As" to stumble onto something that is at least worth a click.
All Cheerleaders Die had its world premiere as the opening night film of the Toronto International Film Festival's 2013 Midnight Madness sidebar.