A film with a title as unambiguous as All Cheerleaders Die from directors as interesting and provocative as Lucky McKee (May, The Woman) and Chris Sivertson (The Lost) comes with certain expectations.
What’s great about the film is how little expectations actually prepare you for it. It’s funnier and more willfully bizarre than any feature in either director’s back catalogue (although it is, of course, based on the student film they made together), and barely hints at their shared Jack Ketchum connection, making for an unpredictable and hugely entertaining horror comedy.
After the school’s head cheerleader dies, Maddy Killian (Caitlin Stasey) decides to infiltrate the unconvincingly grieving mean girls clique and tear their world apart, much to the consternation of her dippy Wiccan ex Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee). But when a gruesome accident takes place, Leena discovers that her powers are real and the girls find themselves going through some dangerous changes.
“Someone got fucked, someone got killed and I’m going to PE” is how Leena answers the obligatory ‘What’s going on?’ question at the film’s halfway point. It’s difficult to talk too much about the film’s plot without spoiling it, but there are notes of high school movies as varied The Craft and Jennifer’s Body to ET as the cheerleading squad embrace their new potential. Comparisons to Joseph Kahn’s Detention are inevitable and, although it doesn’t quite measure up to the glorious chaos of that under-seen horror, All Cheerleaders Die finds a manic, infectious energy all of its own.
The performances are largely excellent. Stasey (Neighbours, Tomorrow When The War Began) brings an eerie deadpan calm to her vengeful manipulator; Brooke Butler is spot-on as the impulsive, spoiled alpha, and Tom Williamson gives his football captain real menace. The star of the show is definitely Smit-McPhee (who was great as Thomas Jane’s daughter in Hung), whose cat-loving witch suddenly finds all her pop culture fantasies coming true. There’s also a fantastic cameo from Michael Bowen (Breaking Bad), who is called upon to fulfil his neighbourly duty.
It’s also refreshing to see a revenge fantasy film as bizarre as this, for the most part unburdened by the usual moral quandaries that label implies. This being a high-school film, sex plays a big part in the story, but it’s treated with the same irreverent sense of humour as the other events in the film. There is violence and threat, but the women are just as dangerous as the men, if not more so. All Cheerleaders Die is not without moments of dark intensity and danger, but once the second act begins, it’s a fantastically fun, gruesome and bizarre ride.
Those looking for the raw emotional impact of the directors’ previous work might find it a little hollow, but McKee and Sivertson keep things moving quickly enough that the occasional bump or misstep is followed by something better. It’s tempting to view this as the directors letting off steam after the controversy over McKee’s The Woman and Sivertson’s experience directing the Lindsay Lohan flop I Know Who Killed Me. This is the assured, confident product of two filmmakers having fun. The closest point of comparison in the back catalogue is probably McKee’s Masters of Horror episode ‘Sick Girl,’ in which Angela Bettis’ kooky entomologist finally gets a girlfriend but also a mind-controlling parasite.
All Cheerleaders Die is a hugely entertaining piece of horror escapism. An acquired taste, perhaps, but it’s breathless, unpredictable and very, very funny.
All Cheerleaders Die is playing at the BFI London Film Festival. Ticket information can be found here.