Lucky McKee has long established himself as one of the stalwarts of subversive, indie horror with cult hits like May and The Woman. His films have been feminist examinations of the damaged human psyche, and he's never been afraid to travel down some dark paths in order to tell his stories. What I never would have guessed is McKee, along with co-writer and director Chris Siverston, had a film as breezy and funny as ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE in him that still manages to be as woman positive and subversive as his earlier works.
The film kicks off by following soon to be head cheerleader Lexi at the tail end of junior year. She has it all-money, great looks, the captain of the football team as her boyfriend and a boss attitude. She call her fellow cheerleaders bitches and the ballplayers dogs and she's accrued a knack for sass from a lifetime spent watching MTV teen documdramas and teen movies. The girl knows how to make the camera work for her which makes it all the more of a shock when a tragic (yet hysterical) accident knocks her out of the film about five minutes into the running time.
What follows starts as a revenge tale when her friend Madeline “Maddy” (Caitlin Stacy)decides to infiltrate the cheer squad in order to make their lives and the football team's life a living hell senior year. She sets her sight of the primary targets of Lexi's best friend and new head of the cheer squad Tracy (Brooke Butler) and Lexi's ex Terry (Tom Williamson) as the two started hooking up before the first shovel of dirt is tossed on Lexi's grave. Things start nicely for Mads as she seduces Tracy at a bonfire party, which leads to Terry blowing his stack and punching his ex out in front of all their friends.
Except McKee decides to zig and zag with the story, taking it in unanticipated but much more welcome directions. Mads ex-girlfriend, the goth teen Leena (Sinoa Smit-McPhee) who Mads describes as being in to “Wicca bullshit” still watches over her from afar. She saves the Tracy, Maddy and two other cheerleaders that were with them Terry runs their car off the road, but she's too late to save them from drowning. Casting a spell under the full moon, Leena brings the girls back from the dead as...something else. The girls find themselves connected, and they find themselves constantly hungry for human blood.
That may be the basics of the plot, but All Cheerleaders Die concerns itself less about the story than the incredibly fun ride it takes to get to its endpoint. McKee and Siverston craft a perfect sendup of the modern teen movie. In that regard, it feels a bit like Joesph Kahn's 2011 film Detention. However, that film felt like the kid in class that tries to hard to fit in with the cool clique, stuffing itself with pop culture references and frantic pacing while constantly winking at the audience, resulting in an unwatchable mess. Cheerleaders does not lampoon the modern teen movie so much as it mimics the format to the degree that the audience is in on the joke. There's at least a dozen slow motion shots of one or more of the girls sauntering down a hallway while their hair is tussled by the wind. When the stoners pull up in their van, a veritable forest fire's worth of ganja smoke escapes from the inside. The soundtrack pumps over the top, bass heavy hip throughout. There's lingering, lecherous shots on panty clad derrieres It's pitch perfect ridiculousness and spot on from start to end. On top of it, the movie is just damn funny. If nothing else, it introduced my new favorite euphemism for sexual congress with "I got all up in that freezer!"
Despite the bombast, the characters do not get the short shrift. The film has a way of shifting the focus from one young woman to another, allowing them each a chance to shine. Just when you think the film is going to follow Lexi, the attention shifts to Maddy before settling on Leena. Her increasing skill with witchcraft is a nice metaphor for a a young woman harnessing her sexuality. The film has three gay or bisexual characters in leading roles, yet their orientation is received as not a big deal by anyone in the film. It's refreshing.
McKee has long been one of the more respected names in the independent genre circuit. This film is his most commercial to date and even then, he manages to thumb his nose at the mainstream. My only hope is audiences will be in on the joke as well when All Cheerleaders Die hits VOD this May, followed by theaters in June. The film manages to be both funny and smart, which is a rare combination for the genre these days.