All Cheerleaders Die (2013) - I've seen a lot of films from Lucky Mckee. In fact I am a bit of a fan. (I hate that word because trust me if he started turning out shit I would find other favorites to follow.) The first was the wonderfully imbalanced May (2002) with Angela Bettis that was made even better by the leads performance of the sad and horrifically damaged young woman May who can't seem to connect to the people around her. Roman (2006) which stars McKee as another person incapable of connecting in a healthy way, where an accidental death and a budding relationship with the lovely Kristen Bell drive the mind of the lead character to horrific places. The Woods (2006) was a cool supernatural mystery set at a boarding school in the 1960's. In 2011 he came out with The Woman (2011) a whole different kind of fucked up that has to be seen to be believed. So here we are with the new Lucky McKee film this time he shares both the writing and the directing chores with Chris Sivertson who did get some buzz around his 2008 film Wicked Lake unfortunately not as loved by some. All Cheerleaders Die seems to be a re-imaging of a project the two did together in 2001 of the same name. That is not a fact just conjecture on my part.
One thing you really don't have to worry about in a McKee film is that the screenwriting is poor. McKee has structure down. I'm reminded of this in the very beginning of the film. The dialog is not some throw away bullshit but instead a foreshadowing of what is to come. In it an off screen interviewer talks to a cheerleader about the dangers of the sport. In her 'so full of herself' way the cheerleader talks about the injury frequency and how you have to be in shape to be a cheerleader. The scene accomplishes two things at once, the already mentioned foreshadowing and a character development letting us know through actress delivery what kind of person the cheerleader is. All through the script of this film there are these well put together scenes that accomplish the goals of the plot while still developing or expressing the characters, As a viewer it may go a bit unnoticed but when this quality of writing is not there it stands out like a pimple on prom night.
You see this again when after the horrible incident at the intro section of the film we see Lexi's car drive up to the school a couple days before senior year. In the car is Terry already introduced as Lexi's man. His character is display by the fact he is driving her car and is there with another cheerleader the lovely Tracy. The way he looks at her and the way she is so obviously with him show us what is going on and while still letting us know what has happened.
When you get down to the heart of All Cheerleaders Die it is a story about Maddy Killian (Caitlin Stasey) a lesbian infatuated with her friend, head cheerleader Alexis (Felisha Cooper). Whether there was a relationship between the two other than friends is a question to think about. It is not evident from the early footage and Alexis is student profile #4 in Maddy's film not number one. There is though a foreshadowing of another relationship in the early going of this film. When we see the drive Maddy has to promote her friend through a video project we get the impression that there is a desire on her side that is beyond wanting a good grade, when it comes to Lexi, as she is called in the film Maddy cares deeply. It may seem strange to note that Maddy is a lesbian but it certainly does play a part in this film. Whether taking the approach that there is a unrequited love between Maddy and Lexi and she is just jealous of her friend's attention for football hunk Terry (Tom Williamson) when the tragedy that starts the film happens we hear Maddy in her own words talking about a revenge that she feels has to happen. Also early on after Lexi leaves the picture Maddy is trying out for the squad herself and says "Did you know Alexis and I did gymnastics together in seventh grade? Then she went her way and I went mine." It is a subtle but useful line. Well without talking to the writers I can't prove any of this so on with the show. After Maddy makes the cheerleading team we get the some of the picture of what is going on. A faint about how she is upset that Terry is with Tracy so soon after Lexi's death. She lets the audience know that she plans on ruining the couple's senior year and getting on the squad was the first step in that plan.
A side note: There is a moment in the early filming of Lexi that is interesting in that there is a music slow motion cut as she walks into the school. Since at this moment the video maker Maddy is reviewing her footage you can assume that she created this scene even so it is very clever of the film maker to work in this stylistic approach through the guise of the student's film.
More clever writing in a what could be seen as a scene to establish the relationship between Maddy and Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) at the end of the scene where Leena is talking about the cat named Madeline she mentioned that the cat died, yeah the cat she is holding which is alive and well. So easy to overlook but so well placed. Even more subtle is when Leena casts her crystals after Maddy leave the four green crystals surrounding the purple one one, nicely done in that case.
A good part of the film is centered around that plan and its affect on
Terry. He is a wolf as the girls call him and is not one to let a high
school girl come between him and what he wants. In fact as much as Maddy is the protagonist Terry is an equal if not larger antagonist.
Another thing that this film does well is the dynamic between Terry and Maddy. We are focusing on her but really we could be focusing on him. When she is trying out for the squad he is there at football practice, he sees her and takes notice. When she uses Tracy's phone to text "Asshole" to him he is quietly watching the girls from Lexi's car nearby. He sees as Maddy seduces Tracy into kissing. While she is infiltrating his life to ruin it he is in the know of what is happening. When we finally learn the reason for their animosity we fully can appreciate their interactions.
Too much appreciation for the script could give too much away so even though I could continue to dissect this film let me talk more about my feelings about how the whole picture works. The main players here are the cheerleaders, Maddy, Tracy (Brooke Butler), Martha (Reanin Johannink), mascot Hannah (Amanda Grace Cooper) and Maddy's former relationship Leena. When the escalation of Maddy's plan to piss off Terry get to be a crisis these five women find themselves in a supernatural state which is a giant turn in the film. Their condition dictates what happens next and moves towards the climax which again shifts into virgin territory. There is some really cool things to like hear, particularly the immersion in the world where after the magic happens it is then a given. There is no trying to explain it. Sure we see the consequences of how the girl need to operate in order to have strength but there is no tedious exposition about why its happening. They are in their condition and what follows the conditions rules are laid out in a couple quick scenes. I appreciate that.
Now I must be getting old, my daughter Joy graduated college this year and I have to say she is a more mature complete woman than when she graduated high school. Having seen her then and now I can't completely buy the actors in this film as high school students. Many are in their twenties and it is just too hard for me to see them as high school aged. Suspension of disbelief is key here but I am just saying that everyone in this film are just too grown up. I understand it is necessary, certainly it makes the look of the characters much more appealing. I suppose in the hyper reality of the film it is necessary to have actors to reach the depths that these characters have to get to.
The film was a bit PG-13 for my tastes and I can see that teenagers may love this movie if they get to see it. Although I appreciated the script, some of the style choices and surprises of the story. I did not like some of the boxes that the characters were put in. Jocks as assholes, with Terry leading the way as the predatory sociopath. Cheerleaders as superficial ditzes who have shared orgasms when one of them feeds or has sex. The exploitative clothes of the girls, who wears cheerleader outfits to school? Who is buried in it? So much of the structure is teen movie predictable it must be on purpose. Luckily this can all be taken as satire on these kinds of teen movies. If not satire then really it was a bit immature. Still I liked it and enjoyed the subtlety of the writing while watching the absurdity of the humor. Humor both in the story and in the use of music, with purposely sappy music at certain times. Has to be satire. It is a world after all without parents, authority figures or police and full of magic. The third act heads to a climax that I don't think anyone could predict. Although it tried to up the brutality quotient I think it was a bit inexplicable. I suppose love wins out over evil. Overall I wish the film was a more harsh in its delivery but that's just an old guy who came into his own on Argento and Fulci talking. This film gets a recommendation from this blog, it has many strengths and a few possible drawbacks. I can imagine some people being harsh on this as a bit too bubble gum but I think if you read into it a bit more you will see there is more than meets the eye.