RogerBW's Blog

All Cheerleaders Die 07 January 2015

2013, dir. Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson, Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee: IMDb / allmovie

Outcast girl Maddy manages to get onto the cheerleading squad after its leader dies in a bizarre accident. But she has revenge in mind, for what is not yet clear, and that's only the beginning.

This is, alas, a film of multiple tones. It starts off as a story of obsession and revenge, and that could have been great in itself. But that never quite takes off, and half-way through it shifts into much more blatant horror – which again in itself could have been great. But as with several other horror films I've reviewed recently, the shift in tone devalues both parts: if you're waiting for the blatant stuff (which is most of what's in the trailers) you'll be put off by the slow start, and if you were looking forward to the revenge story promised in the introductory sequence you'll be annoyed when it's ignored in favour of padding and marking time until the sensibility changes.

Pacing is part of the problem: the film never seems quite to have confidence in its viewers' ability to work out what's going on, and so it repeats its points to make sure nobody could possibly have missed them. This slows everything down, and even at a pleasingly slim 84 minutes I felt it sometimes dragged.

The messages may be unsubtle, but at least they're more interesting (and positively feminist) than the ones that horror films usually send: rather than "have sex and die", the thesis here is more like "don't trust men who are used to getting what they want". And indeed that a woman in the sort of situation that happens in horror films shouldn't accept a man's help just because he's a Good Guy, especially if said help is not actually going to be of any use.

A late plot twist makes for a distinct improvement in the story, but by the time it happens we're into the last ten minutes and the final action sequence. Soon enough, it's all over with multiple fatalities, a cliffhanger ending and the promise of a sequel.

This is a re-imagining of the same directors' (and writers') microbudget film of the same title from 2001, but it still looks cheap in places: most of the action is at night, key things happen just off-camera (always good for enhancing tension), there's some workable CGI but it's not trying to look natural, and most of the money evidently went on practical gore effects (and very fine they are).

I could rather wish that there were a bit less visual lingering on hot young barely-clad cheerleaders' bodies; maybe that's the bait to get the horror fans to stay for the feminist message, but for a film that has plenty to say about the exploitation of women it seems to be doing rather too much of it.

I'd have in the end to call this a near miss. It's pretty good, and I admire what I think it's trying to do, but better integration of the two phases of the story, and a rather different ending, would have helped reinforce the good stuff rather than undermining it.

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