Part lesbian romance, part supernatural thriller, part feminist revenge fantasy, Lucky McKee’s and Chris Sivertson’s All Cheerleaders Die is a playful genre riff that has something for everyone.
Director Lucky McKee has always been interested in women and women’s issues. In his breakthrough film May, he told the story of a sexually confused and socially arrested young woman whose life builds to an explosion of violence that may or may not have been exactly what she needed. In 2011’s The Woman, McKee made his magnum opus, exploring the subtle and insidious patriarchy that rules women in small American towns, and the metaphorical angel of vengeance that appears to free them. It was one of the best films of its year. His newest film All Cheerleaders Die – co-written and co-directed with Chris Sivertson (director of the so-bizarre-it’s-amazing I Know Who Killed Me) – McKee is perhaps backsliding into trashier material (it was based on his first short film, also made with Sivertson), but is still bringing his peculiar interests and feminist spin to various genres at once. The result is a thickly plotted, enjoyably textured, and forthrightly entertaining piece of self-aware revenge schlock. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
I mentioned that it was thickly plotted, so follow me closely: Mäddy (Caitlin Stasey) is a gloomy lesbian who was making a documentary film about her high school’s cheerleaders when the star babe of the bunch dies in an accident. Partly as a form of twisted penance, and partly through sociological curiosity, Mäddy decides to join the cheerleading squad and become friends with the pretty blonde Tracy (Brooke Butler) whom she will eventually become attracted to, and will seduce. This angers Mäddy’s ex-girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), a depressed Wiccan. When the high school’s star quarterback (Tom Williamson) is spurned by girlfriend Tracy, he kills Tracy, Mäddy, and two other cheerleaders in a car accident. Leena manages to use some Wiccan magic to resurrect the cheerleaders. They are now a coven of hungry succubi who can drain the life from victims and get revenge on the asshole football players who killed them. Oh yes, and two of the cheerleaders accidentally switched bodies. Hijinks ensue.
The far-flung story elements might have readers suspicious that the tone is scattered and inchoate. Within the first hour All Cheerleaders Die cycles from indie romance, to feminist polemic, to genuine horror, to horror satire, to titillating B-picture. But somehow, this film coheres. It seems shabby, but is impeccably assembled. There is a pervading sense of purpose to the witch resurrections and lesbian betrayals, as well as a pervading sense of genre joy; the directors are clearly having a great time.
All Cheerleaders Die is not snarky or cynical. It’s wise and funny. It may have close-up shots of tight young buttocks, and it may linger over its acres of nubile flesh with a seemingly pornographic eye (Short skirts! Bikinis!), but this film is not exploiting its young leads. It’s presenting a world where girls are doing these things for each other. “Bitches only.” They are not competing for men. At it’s heart, it’s a B-picture (as evidenced by its action-packed, bloody-soaked climax), but All Cheerleaders Die also has something on its mind. The affairs of women, it is saying, are far away from the blustering desires of men. Women, even teenage cheerleaders, are not here for your amusement. As a grrrl power polemic, All Cheerleaders Die is first rate. As a genre film, its giddy, wicked fun. There’s something for everyone.
I look forward to more from the McKee/Sivertson pairing. These are two men who have a sharp eye for gorgeously overblown genre pictures and Italian giallo traditions, but with enough of their own voice to infuse the old with modern essaying notions on the role of the female in modern society. They may be making films about wild women, murderers, and phantom twin limbs, but these men are thinkers. We need more like them. The final card in the film declares the true title to be All Cheerleaders Die, Part 1. I’m eager for Part 2.