All Cheerleaders Die [2014] (dir. Lucky McKee & Chris Siverston)

Posted: August 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

“All Cheerleaders Die” has enough originality for you to expect good things from it, but not enough originality to deliver those things.  The glimpses of originality, instead, cause one to feel worse about the film then one would if the film simply followed the basics conventions of its genre.  By giving us fragments of originality, it teases us with the hopes and expectations that we will see a unique and interesting film.  The result, when it doesn’t deliver, is a bigger let down than if the filmmakers had left out all originality to begin with.

A little background is needed.  “All Cheerleaders Die” was originally a film made in 2001 after the co-directors, Lucky McKee and Chris Siverston, almost immediately after college.  I myself have not seen this original version as it appears to not be in wide circulation and is not readily available.  After the film, both men went on to have individual careers as directors.  Siverston’s career is likely the lesser respected, having directed the Lindsay Lohan vehicle “I Know Who Killed Me”, which had the dishonor of “winning” the Golden Raspberry award for worst film of 2008.  I actually found that film to be decent with an interesting visual style, and think a lot of the criticism for that film was generic hatred for Lohan that was thrust upon the film.  It’s not a good film by any means, but not the cinematic atrocity it is claimed to be by those who have not seen it.  Siverston also directed an adaptation of the Jack Ketchum novel “The Lost”, which suffered from a horrible leader actor but was otherwise a faithful and decent filmic iteration of that novel.

McKee, on the other hand, had the makings of being the next golden boy of horror.  His 2002 film, “May”, was for my money the best horror film of the 2000-2009 decade, and received numerous positive reviews of the type which horror films rarely do.  “May” was really a character study and a drama that became a horror film as it went on, and created deep empathy for its main character, and remains a highpoint in 21st century horror film which I recall often.  McKee so far hasn’t lived up to the promise of “May”, but his track record is far better than Siverston’s.  He followed up “May” with a Masters of Horror episode, “Sick Girl”, which was one of the better offerings of that dreadful failed experiment in anthology horror.  His feature follow-up, “The Woods”, was tampered with by studio execs and what remained was a highly flawed and almost unreviewable work because it feels Frankenstein-ed from disparate footage left rotting in an editing room.  McKee tried his hand at adapting a Ketchum novel himself, “Red”, but left the production mid-way and was replaced.  That film remains unseen by me.  McKee seemed to pull himself out of this funk when he teamed up with Ketchum to write “The Woman”, a horror film allegory for the war on terror and state sanction torture which felt like a return to style after being lost in the wilderness of moviemaking.

Now McKee and Siverston team up again for a loose remake of their 2001 film.  In 13 years, I’m surprised all they could come up with was a warmed over version of “Jennifer’s Body” that at different times feels like a rip-off of “Mean Girls”, “Bring It On”, or, dare I say it, the Wes Craven abomination “My Soul to Take”.  One third of this film is interesting and inventive, and the other two thirds are semi-entertaining garbage.  I have a feeling I know which director is responsible for which third.

The plot involves Maddy (Caitlin Stasey), who is filming cheerleader Alexis (Felisha Cooper) for a video project when Alexis suffers from a broken neck performing a cheerleading move and dies.  The film cuts to three months later, and Maddy has a plan to take revenge on Alexis’s supposed best friend (Brooke Butler) and boyfriend (Tom Williamson) for moving on so quickly from the death.  That plan involves lies and lesbian seduction (McKee enjoys incorporating lipstick lesbian romances into a lot of his work), and after a half hour of not being quite sure where the film is going (something I enjoyed, as it made me assume the film would follow an original and unpredictable plot…my assumption was incorrect), we wind up the plot backfiring and boyfriend Terry running Maddy and three other girls, including the aforementioned best friend, off the road, killing them.

They’re not dead for long, however, as Maddy’s  ex-girlfriend (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) happens to be a goth girl Wiccan (I imagine real Wiccans may be offended by another clichéd portrayal of them as two-bit witches casting evil spells) and uses her magical light-up stones (I know) to bring Maddy and the three other girls back to life.  Two of them, a Jesus-freak cheerleader (Reanin Johannink) and the shy girl team mascot (Amanda Grace Cooper) are sisters, and they end up in each other’s bodies (what?) upon resurrection.  Oh, and all four resurrected girls suck the energy out of people via blood (vampire succubus?) and need to do this to keep going.  And another thing, they each feel when one of them has sex.  For some reason.  I don’t know, I didn’t write this thing.

Once they’re all resurrected and we know the basic rules of what’s going on, everything progresses in a predictable and unoriginal way, which is a shame considering the set up has flashes of originality and a few moments of the film in the subsequent second and third acts show through.  The most noticeable aspects of this film, in hindsight, are really the lack of nudity (we get one pair of breasts which, from the way they’re shot, reek of belonging to a body double), and that the film seems refreshingly casual about lesbian relationships, even if the film is firmly planted in the male gaze of shooting these twenty-somethings-playing-teenaged-girls bodies to show off as much skin as their contracts would allow the filmmakers to show.  The reviews claiming this film is a satire of how horror films treat women seem unfounded to me.  There’s no satire of sexualizing women here.  The women are sexualized in the traditional way, and they punish men for their crimes against them.  The clichés remain strong and un-subverted.  A shame, really, since McKee has been praised in the past, both by me and others, for not falling into these types of traps.

“All Cheerleaders Die” is too clichéd and unoriginal for me to recommend, but the flashes of originality produced in me a certain affection for parts of the film.  The acting is all appropriate to the material, and the film is well shot and edited, though a more realistic color scheme might made the madcap light-up-magic-stones zaniness seem less ridiculous, and I have no issues with the technical side of things.  This script just needed a lot more drafts for these guys to figure out what they wanted the film to say.  Right now, all it says is men are scum, women who chase men are scum, and hot girls should just stick to dating hot girls.  It’s hardly the argument I imagine either director intended. C+

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