“ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE” (TIFF Movie Review)
Long before they made contemporary controversial horror favorites like MAY, THE WOMAN and THE LOST Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson were a pair of fresh faced film grads who decided to shoot their first feature together. The result was ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE and though it never got much of a release, it did kick off their solo directing careers. Now over ten years later, the two filmmakers teamed up again to remake that film with, you know, production values. The result is as fun as the title suggests and as giddily violent as their subsequent directorial careers guaranteed. It’s also a bit of an artistic regression as well as a nostalgia piece, though. The movie is as messy and tonally jumbled as most first feature films, with the directors unable to tame their old concept with their acquired skills as professional filmmakers. That quality is part of the wacko charm that earned the flick a spot at TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, it’s just sadly a bit of a step back for McKee in particular.
Note: SPOILERS Follow
As you’ve probably worked out by now, the flick is based around a high school cheerleading squad. ALL CHEERLEADERS opens with ahilarious mock-doc opening sequence featuring the accidental death of a high school cheerleading goddess. From there, the film settles into being a revenge story. Caitlin Stasey plays Maddy, a longtime friend of the dead pom-pom pusher who seeks vengeance on her high school hierarchy. In particular, she’s infuriated that Tracy (Brooke Butler) has taken the head cheerleader position and football captain Terry’s (Tom Williamson) penis away from her late friend and wants to ruin Tracy’s senior year. In classic B-movie fashion, Maddy does it by seducing Tracy into a lesbian love affair that infuriates Terry as expected. The only problem is that it infuriates Terry to the point of murder. Thankfully, Maddy also has a former goth friend/lover (Sianoa Smi-McPhea) who is a full on witch with powers of resurrection. So the squad comes back, only now they are very much undead, with all of the strange powers and taste for blood that implies.
The first chunk of ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE plays like HEATHERS with a genuinely harsh horror edge. It falls right into the comfort zone of McKee and Sivertson at their best, mixing nasty human impulses, pointed satire, and gut punch violence to devilish effect. Then the Wiccan girl in the corner turns out to have real black magic powers and the film transforms into something closer to a hard-R remake of THE CRAFT. It’s not a shark jump twist since the film has the right subversive streak of humor and violent edge to pull off those sleazy B-movie thrills (in particular a suburban undead cheerleader feast in underwear and mass psychic orgasm are genuine highlights). However, it is a letdown after the promise of the first half.
Still, the performances from the entire cast are surprisingly strong, witty, and fearless. Plus, McKee and Sivertson’s psychotic satire of high school politics strikes a nerve that mixes well with their nasty set pieces. The film is certainly never boring and the batshit insanity of the second half offers plenty of sleazy fun. This exact movie would have been a fine debut for McKee/Sivertson or any other pair of young filmmakers. The trouble is that Lucky McKee has proven he can make movies just as viscerally pleasing that also offer cohesive commentary and satire. He will do that again, I’m sure and as far as one-off playful directorial goofs, you could do much worse. Let’s just hope that next time McKee goes back to something as complex as THE WOMAN rather than delivering the sequel dutifully teased at the end of ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE.