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Toronto Film Review: ‘All Cheerleaders Die’

This saga of ill-fated pom-pom girls who return from death to wreak vengeance will amuse if not wow jaded horror fans.

With:

Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Tom Williamson, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, Jordan Wilson, Leigh Parker, Chris Petrovski, Felisha Cooper.

Indie horror specialists Lucky McKee (“May,” “The Woman”) and Chris Sivertson (“The Lost,” “I Know Who Killed Me”) team up on “All Cheerleaders Die,” a campy bloodfest very different from the grimly serious if sometimes blackly comedic genre exercises they’ve made separately since 2001, when they co-directed a short under the same title. This saga of ill-fated pom-pom girls who return from death to wreak vengeance will amuse if not wow jaded horror fans; more gullible ones, however, may miss the joke and think this is simply a particularly dumb example of the kind of supernatural sexploitation it’s sending up. Home-format prospects look decent, theatrical ones thin.

The opening introduces us to suburban Cali Blackfoot High’s cheer squad, led by creme-de-la-mean-girl-creme Alexis, aka Lexi (Felisha Cooper), though in her reckless braggadocio, she executes a high jump that ends in a fatal head injury. Three months later, the other cheerleaders are starting senior year, with Lexi’s demise leaving one slot open for a newcomer.

It’s won by hitherto disinterested Maddy (Caitlin Stasey), who gets in because she’s acrobatically flexible and was once the dead girl’s best friend. Little do her teammates suspect that Maddy has only joined in order to avenge her pal’s death. She takes particular offense at the fact that replacement leader Tracy (Brooke Butler), a seemingly bitchy blonde who’s secretly nice, and Lexi’s star-quarterback former boyfriend, Terry (Tom Williamson), scarcely waited for the corpse to cool before starting to date. Having made the squad, Maddy wastes little time before making them suspicious of each other’s fidelity.

Viewing all this with dismay is goth girl Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), who until now apparently enjoyed intimacies with Maddy not strictly emotional in nature. She’s lurking around, spying on her ex’s Sapphic seduction of Tracy at a party in the woods, when a violent girls-vs.-boys argument results in a deadly car accident. Leena uses her trusty magic Wiccan stones to revive the deceased, and by morning, several not-so-dead cheerleaders are back in class — albeit with two sisters (Reanin Johannink and Amanda Grace Cooper) now inconveniently stuck in each other’s bodies, and all afflicted by a new desire to suck the life force from any nearby male. Especially obnoxious football-playing ones.

Mashing together elements redolent of “The Craft,” “Species,” “Pet Sematary” and anything featuring toned young bods jiggling booty and tossing hair in slo-mo, “All Cheerleaders Die” has fun with its umpteen cliches. Still, the satirical edge is underplayed enough to make some viewers wonder whether the film is faux-stupid or the real thing. The most overt gags are musical: two interludes in which the Prague Symphony Orchestra provides utterly incongruous flowery-string-section backing, and a final credits crawl mocking such sequences’ tendency to cram in too many last-minute “various artist” tunes to pad an original-soundtrack release.

Even for those most receptive to the tongue-in-cheek tone here, McKee and Silvertson’s in-joke will likely rate just middling on the scale of subversive hilarity. It’s a fond, briskly diverting homage, but not a truly inspired one. Performances, visual approach, f/x and other major contributions all faithfully adhere to current B-horror stylistic conventions.

Toronto Film Review: 'All Cheerleaders Die'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 6, 2013. Running time: 89 MIN.

Production:

A Moderncine production. Produced by Andrew van den Houten, Robert Tonino. Executive producer, Arrien Schittkamp.

Crew:

Directed, written by Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson. Camera (color, HD), Greg Ephraim; editors, Ben La Marca, Zach Passero; music, Mads Heldtberg; production designer, Krista Gall; art director, Mars Feehery; costume designer, Oneita Parker; sound, Ed White; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Andrew Smetek; assistant director, Cassandra Laymon; casting, Lindsay Chag.

With:

Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Tom Williamson, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, Jordan Wilson, Leigh Parker, Chris Petrovski, Felisha Cooper.

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