TIFF ’13 Review: McKee & Sivertson Bring “All Cheerleaders Die” to Life

The indie horror vets join forces for a fun and frivolous thrill ride....Read More
Brooke Butler in Lucky McKee & Chris Sivertson's "All Cheerleaders Die"

By the time the end title card of “All Cheerleaders Die” comes up with a “Part One” affixed to it, you wonder what could possibly be left for a Part Two. There are zombies, mystical crystals, sex in handicapped bathrooms, body swapping, stoner comedy and of course, handstands and cartwheels in the span of its 90 minutes.

Then again, it’s all so random that the introduction of unicorns, angel dust and chainsaws wouldn’t be out of place in a possible sequel. “All Cheerleaders Die” is a film propelled by so many WTF moments that it feels as if to fully understand it would mean you were in co-directors Chris Sivertson and Lucky McKee’s inner circle as they threw out ideas for the inside joke for the past decade, ever since the two first collaborated on a short of the same name. Still, it clearly benefits from the experience the two have gained in the interim, executing the late ’80s appropriate horror, fantasy and high school horndog movie mashup with considerable skill and abandon, as the filmmakers, who have both taken their lumps, let loose with seemingly no limitations imposed upon them.

The same is true of Maddy, a student at Blackfoot High who makes it her mission to avenge the death of her friend Lexi, a member of the pep squad who perishes during practice in a questionable routine. To do so, she must turn her back on Lena (Sianoa Smit McPhee), a fellow outcast who hails from a family of Wiccans, and infiltrate the cheerleading gang, naturally led by the bubbly blonde Tracy (Brooke Butler), who Maddy believes all too conveniently hooked up with Lexi’s football star boyfriend Terry (Tom Williamson) after her tragic death. Lena isn’t too thrilled about that and as Maddy’s plans for comeuppance go a little too well, she finds her way back into the fold as an all-out war between the jocks and the cheerleaders ensues, complete with car chases, bloody fisticuffs and supernatural forces.

What’s strange about “All Cheerleaders Die,” besides everything that happens onscreen, is it’s exactly the type of film I’d want from Sivertson, who made the best out of a bad hand with the surreal Lindsay Lohan thriller “I Know Who Killed Me,” but not necessarily McKee, whose had a rough road since the brilliant Angela Bettis character study “May,” likely in part because his films have been uncompromising existentially, often regarding gender dynamics, as they’ve been in visceral brutality. There’s a little evidence of that here as the cheerleaders and jocks are so intentionally stereotypical that they only feel natural when they start acting unnaturally, toying with preconceptions of both. But mostly it’s what appears to be Sivertson’s signatures – the swirl of vivid colors, the mad plotting – that take over.

With a story that strays far from its initial premise, there’s not a whole lot to grab onto as it hurdles towards it’s conclusion, and yet the fun of it is frequently as intoxicating as the pot smoke wafting out of the school’s resident marijuana dealer’s van. The cast certainly appears to be enjoying themselves, even though many end up bathed in fake blood, and the fact that McKee and Sivertson finally seem to be able to as well becomes infectious. Though “All Cheerleaders Die” may not be enough of one thing to satisfy hardcore conosseuirs of any specific genre, it’s not for those who go to the movies to be reassured of the things they already like. It’s entirely unpredictable and as a result, an unexpected treat.

“All Cheerleaders Die” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It plays once more at the Toronto Film Festival on Sunday, September 15th at 9:30 p.m. at the Scotiabank 11.

Stephen Saito is an L.A.-based writer whose work has been published in The L.A. Times, Premiere, and IFC.com.
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