All Cheerleaders Die has a simple premise that it executes fairly well. Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) is recording her childhood friend, cheerleader Alexis, on the last day of school of their junior year. The sassy Alexis is showing how the privileged, beautiful kids have it at their high school, from life in the hallways to cheer practice. When Maddy seems unimpressed in general and particularly unmoved by the squad’s moves, Alexis decides to up the ante, resulting in a horrifying accident that culminates in Alexis’s death.
Fast forward three months to the start of Maddy’s senior year. Maddy, in the wake of her friend’s death, decides to try out for the cheer squad, although apparently for her own, decidedly non-school spirit reasons. Despite their reservations, the cheerleaders welcome her as one of her own. The girls overcome their differences, do each others nails, share pizza and laughs, and everyone lives happily ever after.
OK, not so much. Maddy has a plan to avenge what she sees as the cheer squad’s (and others) betrayal of her dead friend. It doesn’t quite go as planned. There’s rape, murder, attempted murder, witchcraft, zombies, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And blood. Lots and lots of blood.
If it sounds like a hoot and half, it is … in parts. That’s the elephant in the room with All Cheerleaders Die. Co-writers and co-directors Lucky McPhee and Chris Sivertson craft a smarter film than it would initially appear to be. There’s plenty of laughs, a few surprises, a number of well-crafted scenes. The cast is exactly what they need to be and have the ability to carry out McPhee and Sivertson’s vision.
The problem is said vision. All Cheerleaders Die never seems to decide if it wants to go dark and mean – think Saw, Hostel, Halloween, etc. – or play it for laughs – Army of Darkness, Shaun of the Dead, Kings of Badassdom, etc. When it plays it for laughs, All Cheerleaders Die delivers, such as when quarterback Terry (Tom Williamson) goes from your average evil teenage high school football player to superduperevil something more than human, starts ripping into some human flesh and offers up this gem, “Mmm. Tastes like jelly beans. I’m like the cookie monster up in this bitch. Oh, I hope that shit was gluten-free!” And there are some truly sinister moments, such as when the car filled with football players runs the cheerleaders’ car of the road into a river, and the ball players do nothing but watch the cheer squad drown.
Unfortunately, All Cheerleaders Die never manages to find that horror/humor tonal balance that pushes it from just another pretty good horror film to the pantheon of great ones. While it is reasonably satisfying viewing (if you can get past the Goosebumps-esque special effects, which sometimes get played up a little too much), it’s also frustrating to watch, waiting for the film to break through that storytelling ceiling.