All Cheerleaders Die (London Film Festival 2013) Review
It’s made clear very early on (if not from the title) that All Cheerleaders Die is obsessed with American high school stereotypes. “Boys be dawgs, girls be bitches,” says one cheerleader in the first few minutes, before dying performing a fatal somersault. That playful death, redolent of Final Destination and far too many other recent horrors, suggests All Cheerleaders Die will be a typical slasher film – the opening act even welcomes this ignorance. And then it turns delightfully loopy. Every character is a trope and keen to stick to that group, whether the football playing “dawgs”, cheerleader “bitches”, or the stoners whose own uniform is emblazoned with a “420” logo. Even the fake cheerleader, Maddy (Caitlin Stasey – yes, Rachel from Neighbours), is a role popularised by Mean Girls and its impersonators. Maddy joins a gang of cheerleaders (Brooke Butler, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannik) who, in the spirit of the film’s mocking of the genre’s tropes, are a mixture of shallow obsessions, closeted lesbian urges, and a desire to wear the uniform whenever possible. After they die (hey, the title predicted this!) in a car accident, the watching jocks (led by Tom Williamson) flee the scene and, like their football matches, hope for the best. All Cheerleaders Die is largely set apart from similarly titled horrors by its supernatural undertones, yet it’s keen to throw in as many surreal genre elements as the short running time will allow. I won’t list them as it’d ruin the fun, but the playful tone means the laughs will definitely outnumber the screams. In doing so, the film lacks some coherency, even if the directors are unbothered by the absurdity. After all, the lack of background knowledge is part of the joke – the deus ex machina is referred to as “crazy wicker bullshit”. Similarly, the genre-friendly title is an early hint that subtlety isn’t a priority: if one cheerleader kicks the bucket, the rest shall follow. The subsequent gender battle is a sort of feminist revenge fantasy, albeit one harder to take seriously with both armies formed by deliberately cliched soldiers. Throughout all the outrageous action, there’s still a disturbingly real tone to the way the jocks attack the women – whereas the responses are played for laughs. Of course, All Cheerleaders Die isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. The onslaught of ideas mean several areas don’t work, particularly the glossy sheen of school scenes soundtracked by American teen punk. However, the revolving door allows a new comedic scenario to take over quickly enough for the viewer to, if not forgive, at least temporarily forget. Perhaps the hit-and-miss structure is best summed up by Lenna (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), Maddy’s former best friend; fed up of the chaos and gore, she informs the cheerleaders, “Somebody got fucked, somebody got killed, and I’m going to PE.” When the symbolism is fleshed out, that flesh is eaten with smug satisfaction.All Cheerleaders Die is part of the London Film Festival’s “Cult” strand. Screening information can be found here.