All Cheerleaders Die (2013) review

Ever since I discovered 2002’s spectacular, Frankenstein-homage, “May” I have loved writer/director Lucky McKee.  The way he handles tone, gore, character, and the growth and shifts in each category are stunning.  When I saw he was co-writer and co-director of “All Cheerleaders Die” and it was a remake of and earlier film of his and fellow writer/director Chris Sivertson I had to indulge.  I was not disappointed.

“All Cheerleaders Die” starts with a campy tone, but soon abandons it for one of McKee’s signature tonal shifts becoming a dark revenge tale.  After Maddy (Caitlin Stasey, “I, Frankenstein”) captures a horrific cheerleading tragedy during an interview she sets out for revenge the following year vowing to destroy the former cheerleader’s boyfriend, Terry (Tom Williamson), who is captain of the football team.  Revenge, however, is a dangerous path and soon Maddy, Tracy (Brooke Butler), Hanna (Amanda Grace Cooper), and Martha (Reanin Johannink) find themselves facing a huge tragedy of their own relying on young teen witch Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) for help.

After this the tone shifts again, from a mysterious infiltration and revenge tale into an aggressive and gore-riddled supernatural tale of predators and prey.  One where the tables have dramatically turned and former alphas have become the omegas.  As the body count rises, the hunted try to uncover the mystery behind hunters new empowerment we root for more bloodshed because this time our killers are our heroes, the wronged party.

McKee and Sivertson keep the narrative brutal and intense as the power continues to shift back and forth, bodies drop on both sides, and it becomes a genuine struggle to survive.  The more we learn the truth the more we want the self-proclaimed “Bitches” to dominate.  This is a dark film that refuses to pull punches.  It is uncompromising and unflinching in its depiction of inter-gender conflict.  It is an empowerment fantasy.  It is a supernatural horror film placed within the cliched realm of high school football/cheerleader power plays.  It works well because it doesn’t try to take itself seriously, it doesn’t make fun of its subject matter, and it doesn’t milk the campy tone for longer than necessary.

“All Cheerleaders Die” invites us in with a campy tone, then rips the rug out from under us dropping us into a serious film with deadly consequences before veering wildly into fantastic territory.  McKee and Sivertson manage to successfully incorporate all these tonal and narrative shifts without making any one scene feel like it isn’t part of the whole.  This is great horror film, it should be seen and appreciated.

Terry is a brutal alpha male and I’m sure we have all met someone like him, a complete unrepentant sexist abuser.  Most are usually restrained, even if barely by social mores and laws, but Terry, when pushed too far too fast, breaks.  This is half the fun of the film, watching his “Dogs” get their well-deserved comeuppance.  As each “Dog” meets their grisly end it is sheer glory.  The gore is handled spectacularly.  It makes us uncomfortable when it needs to, and allows us to relish it at the appropriate time.  Maintaining this delicate balance is another testament to their skills as writers and directors.

In the end “All Cheerleaders Die” is a fabulously balanced, excellently executed horror film.  It has the signature tonal shift McKee demonstrates in several of his films as well as the exquisite gore.  While Hanna and Martha are not as developed as characters, Tracy, Maddy, and Leena are written well, showcase great backstory, when appropriate, and make us empathize.  Terry is an utter terror of a villain.  All-in-all I just hope that McKee and Sivertson make due on the promise made at the end of the film for then, oh yes, I would be thrilled.  “All Cheerleaders Die” is a remake of a film they made together over a decade ago.  While I would enjoy discovering their original vision this 2013 one is available on Netflix, and elsewhere, and I highly recommend you check it out.

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