All Cheerleaders Die Movie Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
Released by RLJ/Image Entertainment
Written and directed by Lucky McKee and Chris Siverston
2014, 89 minutes, Rated R
VOD released on May 8th, 2014 | Theatrically released on June 13th, 2014
Caitlin Stasey as Maddy Killian
Sianoa Smit-McPhee as Leena Miller
Brooke Butler as Tracy Bingham
It would be easy to dismiss All Cheerleaders Die as just another low-budget, trashy, hey-let's-just-watch-pretty-teenagers-die, straight-to-Netflix crapfest, but there's more going on here than meets the eye. In the interest of full disclosure, I was not particularly thrilled with Lucky McKee's last film, The Woman¸ which had some pace and character issues and, well, if you really want to know what I thought, you can check out episode 7 of SlasherCast where we had a lengthy debate over it, so I wasn't overly excited to get to All Cheerleaders Die. It certainly didn't help that the synopsis seems like the plotline of a bad indie feature. You know the kind I mean. The ones you only go to when you can't sleep and you've seen everything else of quality on Netflix.
I admit that at first Cheerleaders failed to pull me in. It starts off as a cinéma vérité about a girl following around an obnoxious cheerleader. A day in the life of kind of film, but takes a dark twist when that cheerleader misses a landing and bounces her head off the turf, snapping her own pretty neck. From there, Maddy, the girl who shot the opening footage, decides to assume her dead friend's place and become a cheerleader to honor her memory and immerse herself in that clique; befriending once enemies and wheedling her way into the power structure for her own nefarious reasons. From there it could have gone off in a very paint-by-numbers approach and it could still probably be good, but there's a much richer path that Cheerleaders takes that is both rooted in cliché and wholly original, reaching a level of not quite parody, but definitely not played for straight. It's a stroke of brilliance I wasn't expecting. When the shit hits the fan here, it hits hard and the splatter zone is fantastic.
Part of what makes it work in that manner is the performances of the main characters. Yes, they are playing caricatures of stereotypical-teens-in-a-slasher roles, but they do it well. It's spot on and invokes the humor behind it all. There are no winks to the camera or overt mugging and overacting. It's subtle humor and a mocking of societal structures and relations. There's also a strange, pining love story between the lead and her ex-friend; a goth-y Wiccan who provides a lot of humor and cringe-worth emotion.
Viewed as the smart and precise satire it is, this movie is quite brilliant and won me over handily. I only worry that it's too nuanced and people might not get it for what it is. If you don't recognize it as tongue-in-cheek, it would be easy to trash it and have a terrible viewing experience. I think this will end up dividing the masses with a strong wall between the people who can view it on two levels and those who can't. The latter are the people I feel bad for, because they're missing something special.