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All Cheerleaders Die | Review

Sapphic Sillies: Sivertson & McKee’s Latest Lacks Spirit

All Cheerleaders Die PosterLucky McKee and Chris Sivertson, old college friends and now notably notorious film directors (though for different reasons) have paired up to share directorial and screenwriting credit for their new film, All Cheerleaders Die, a film which happily delivers content that matches its over-the-top title. Originally, this was a short film of the duo’s from 2001, now developed for feature length, though one gets the sense that there’s not quite enough material to justify the expansion. Sadly, this is hardly on par with McKee’s other perversely enjoyable horror films, such as the exceptional May (2002) or the gritty schlock of The Woman (2011). The good news is, it’s definitely better than Sivertson’s infamous 2007 film, I Know Who Killed Me (2007).

Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is a rebellious outsider at high school, certainly not involved with the popular girls, but certainly not a social outcast either. She had decided to make a film documenting the high school cheerleading team at Blackfoot High, but when the head cheerleader dies in a freak accident while filming, a slippery set of circumstances leads Maddy to audition for the new opening on the team, though we soon learn she has sinister motives. Her ex-girlfriend, Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) happens to be a practicing Wiccan, and is still a tad obsessed with Maddy, jealous that she’s now joined the cheerleaders and has developed Tracy (Brooke Butler) as a new bosom buddy. While Maddy woos Tracy away from her boyfriend Terry (Tom Williamson), the violence prone captain of the football team, Leena’s powers come in handy during a lusty showdown of girls vs. boys during one drunken party in the woods. Now, all hell seems to break loose when Leena discovers she has special powers over the deceased.

While it may be pointless to question why, after all this time, McKee and Sivertson have decided to return to their first collaboration for inspiration, the result plays like a light, oddball effort made by two people that clearly enjoy working with one another. Reminiscent of Heathers, Mean Girls and a whole host of bitchy high school primed cinema, Cheerleaders is not as funny or thrilling as it should be, belching out moments of delight here and there, but never quite finding a successful balance of either.

This isn’t helped by some amateur performances, even if McKee has a knack for casting interesting choices for the offbeat, weird female roles that populate his films. His muse Angela Bettis doesn’t pop up here, but the one who seems to be having the most fun with her role is Sianoa Smit-McPhee (sister of Kodi), the self-proclaimed witch. Always sporting a carefully selected soundtrack, here we’re led to distraction as insistent musical cues are more intensely interesting than the watered down clichés continually offered up by the narrative. All Cheerleaders Die isn’t a bad film, but it’s sadly a disappointment when compared to McKee’s more powerfully exuberant titles. Sure, they’re having a lot of fun it seems, but the result is a bit too hokey.

Reviewed on September 5 at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival – Midnight Madness Programme.
90 Mins

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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