I’ve found that words like “rebellious” and “subversive” get thrown around an awful lot by people whom I don’t believe know the meaning of words like “rebellious” and “subversive.” Those are two words I’ve seen in many spaces used to describe ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE, and I’d caution my fellow critics to pull out the dictionary or invest in a good thesaurus should they wish to maintain such sterling reputations. Granted, this picture isn’t as squeaky clean as the Kirsten Dunst headlined BRING IT ON … but I honestly think it’s hard for something that makes as little cognitive sense of this film to earn the adjective of “rebellious” or “subversive.”
Try “goofy,” and you have a winner!
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to figure out what to say about a feature, especially when the one I just finished looked like ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE. Basically, it’s this story of female empowerment, largely achieved by putting on skimpy costumes, practicing witchcraft, making out with one another, dying and getting resurrected all because those stupid, stupid high school boys tried to kill you. While watching, I always try to form some basic impressions – some initial reaction – but so very much of the film seemed to vacillate between good and just-plain-bad.
And when it feels like the writers, directors, or storytellers were deliberately trying to jerk you (as an audience) around, I usually find myself frowning at their obviousness.
Still, there’s some charm wrapped up with these CHEERLEADERS that was hard to defy even if that was my first instinct. Much of that comes from the performances of the main players (FYI: the girls, not the guys, who were basically as faceless as the next teen star). Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Amanda Grace Cooper, and Reanin Johannink might all share the pleasant distinction of being “easy on the eyes,” but they also manage to each bring some spirit to this game that might not necessarily warm your hearts but should inspire you to keep watching. (I know that worked for me.) In particular, Butler practically attacks the screen with a kind of sure-footedness rarely seen in teen-ish newcomers, effortlessly switching between jilted young lover and Lolita-wannabe with accomplished grace (if not glee). Smit-McPhee pulls off the confused angst common to that age who perhaps finds the answers she’s looking for in witchcraft with equal ease, though the first half of the flick shackles here with far too much predictability. However, all of these ladies definitely transcended the narrative weaknesses on display here, and I’d daresay they’re all ‘ones to watch’ in the years ahead.
As for the narrative weaknesses?
The script by Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson (directed by same) never quite figured out what it wanted to be. Is this a comedy? Is this a drama? Is this a cautionary tale for the modern era? Thirty minutes in, I found myself looking at my watch wondering when the main plot was going to show up; and, as no main character had yet emerged on the scene, I was ready to write this off as a creative failure. However, that’s about the point when a premise shows up … I just wish McKee and Sivertson knew what that premise was.
See, as much as CHEERLEADERS tried very hard to be about something (these ladies, these times, the black arts), it never quite successfully came together for me. In fact, I don’t doubt that there was a very good (if not great) short film in here (IMDB states this is based on ‘their original film’); but narrative bloat really makes these 90 minutes difficult to swallow. So very much of those first thirty minutes were loose, almost as if the writers didn’t quite know what the point of all of this was, and this kills any synergy from starting. Too many moments felt like cautionary After School Specials, but given the tone of brazen snarkiness was I supposed to take those lessons serious? Also, the sound engineering in those early moments wasn’t up-to-snuff (early on, it takes the look of the found-footage-film); so when I can’t tell what folks are saying I tend to tune out.
Once the flick puts itself in full horror-camp mode, it becomes a vastly better feature. Sure, there are still some wild gaps in logic (what appears early on like Wicken magic gets ‘cheapified’ when it becomes clear all one has to do is swallow stones to make yourself into a source of evil), but that’s all with keeping with the times.
Also? Hated most of the music soundtrack. Just downright hated it.
ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (2013) is produced by Moderncine. DVD distribution is being handled by RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment. As for the technical specifications? Most of the film is very smartly constructed with solid sights and sounds; unfortunately – as mentioned above – the first 20-30 minutes really could’ve used a better mix as the blaring music soundtrack really drowned out practically everything the cast was saying. Lastly – if it’s special features you want – you can look forward to a brief (20 minutes) behind-the-scene featurette that I only found lukewarm.
RECOMMENDED. Not since the days of LIFEFORCE has a film lacked every such conviction to maintain any sense of logic to it, but that’s what you have to look forward with ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE. It utterly makes no sense, but – like a car crash – you may find yourself drawn curiously and curiously closer to its characters and their bloody plight. I don’t know who writers/directors Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson wanted to impress or offend, but odds are they achieved both goals in this little stinker that might just end up being the next great cult classic. Or not.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment and Image Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.