All Cheerleaders Die

In 2001, fresh college graduates Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson decided to make a film called All Cheerleaders Die. I don’t know if many people saw it; I know I certainly haven’t. Now, 13 years later, the directorial team has remade their own film, which some people might automatically dismiss as egotistical, but I think it can result in some people’s best work. With time, you gain perspective and maturity. You can see what didn’t work and what did — and you can fix that in your remake. Yes, I mentioned maturity in a review of All Cheerleaders Die. No, I probably shouldn’t have.

After an opening sequence in which her best friend, Alexis, dies after a botched cheerleading move, Maddy (Caitlin Stasey), witnesses her boyfriend, Terry (Tom Williamson), immediately move on. Maddy vows to ruin Terry’s life, and plans to do so by joining the cheerleading squad and turning its members against him — including his new girlfriend, Tracy (Brooke Butler). But, after some events which fall into spoiler territory occur, the girls on the squad effectively become zombies. And then … other things happen.

It would do a disservice to you if I were to reveal what transpires after this point. The big transformation happens almost halfway through, and I feel like telling you what happens in the second half of a film really isn’t fair to it. Let’s just say that what originally looks to be a high school dramedy becomes more of the horror-comedy that its title promises. Or, I can only assume you thought it was a less-than-serious horror movie based on its title. That’s what I immediately thought.

The film aims to be a nontraditional horror movie that subverts some of the tropes that often wind up defining and hindering the genre. The treatment and characterization of female characters is a prime one. You see specific character types and immediately associate specific stereotypes to them. Then the film destroys your expectations. It hopes to do this in all aspects, but it really only works out when it comes to its characters and a few situations. You’ll still feel right at home in a horror movie while watching it.

It’s funnier than that. It has some genuinely shocking moments. I gasped a single time, and I rarely ever react like that. It has an energy that’s often hard to capture. You often don’t know where it’s going or what’s going to happen next. Its actors are all fun to watch. The actors give their characters unique personalities — there are five cheerleaders and it’s not difficult at all to differentiate them. These are all great traits.

Does the film struggle at times? Sure. There are points at which it’s repetitive, it takes its time finding its stride, not all the jokes are funny — although what movie’s jokes all hit? — and its ending is disappointing, if only because the film ends on a cliffhanger. I wanted more and I wanted a conclusive finish. But, hey. Perhaps this means that, assuming All Cheerleaders Die does well, we’ll get a second installment. Maybe, just maybe. But until then, the ending is a promise that might go unfulfilled.

There are probably no actors in this film with whom you are familiar. You might know Caitlin Stasey, but she’s the most famous of actors. I sometimes like that lack of familiarity, and it works well here. The rawness of the performances, the naturalistic approach to the dialogue — that all makes the film feel different, which is part of the intent. And they do a good job. You can tell that some of the actors aren’t American if you listen closely for some accent slippage, but for the most part the performances are great for a silly and campy movie like this one.

You can probably figure out if you’re going to like a film called All Cheerleaders Die just by the title. While it’s smarter, funnier, and (once or twice) more shocking than its horror-comedy title might suggest, this is basically your standard campy horror-comedy, but with some genre subversions and a good deal of fun. Is it perfect? No. Is it great? Not really. But it’s enjoyable and if it sounds like you’ll like it, you probably will.

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