Sunday 27 October 2013

LFF 2013 Capsules: All Cheerleaders Die

There is no greatest betrayal than from those you love. Is it because of the emotional investment, the higher expectations... Being scorned by those you have cherished, supported, admired, longed for... is the ultimate tragedy. It happened at the London Film Festival, and it took the incredible quality of the rest of the line up to make it up for it. But it is hard to let it go, for you might find a new director to lust after, but one object of your affection never replaces the previous one. I'm looking at you, Lucky McKee.

Lucky McKee is one of my favourite film directors, and one of the most interesting voice in horror nowadays. He has developed a unique and instantly recognisable style over the years, with such great films as May, The Woman (my top film of 2011) and even his episode of The Masters Of Horrors (Sick Girl), all featuring his muse, Angela Bettis. Strong female characters, impeccable indie soundtracks, a mix of black comedy and slightly over the top desperate and dramatic antics... a winning formula! All Cheeleaders Die is actually co-directed by Chris Sivertson, so I'm going to sleep better tonight by blaming him for everything that is wrong with the film (i.e. everything).

In it, a squad of cheerleaders attempt to take their revenge on a bunch of jocks who have wronged them, only to die in a tragic accident. But that is not enough to stop them, thanks to the help of the local goth girl who brings them back from the dead. Sounds like I am not describing the characters very well? This is because there is zero characterisation whatsoever, apart from those well worn wafer-thin US high school stereotypes.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to go for a lighter tone, and this promised to be an amusing comedy/horror. Except that it is nothing of the sort. It is neither funny not scary, just rather dull and vaguely nauseating in parts (more on that later). It reminded me of an average Buffy/Charmed episode, but with none of the wit of the former, or the, well, charm of the latter. This feels like a big step back, as if we were actually watching his first film, which sort of makes sense since this is based on a short film he directed back in 2001.

Its main problem is the catastrophic tonal mismatch. The teen dark comedy angle which can work so well if finely balanced (see Heathers) is here wilfully misjudged. It could well be that I am becoming too old, and the whole US high school universe is beginning to grate me, but here we are presented with terribly unlikeable characters (the jocks), doing horrible things to only slightly less unlikeable characters (the cheerleaders), and you are left with nobody to root for, not even the wiccan lesbian, who has not enough of a personality to make any kind of impact. I was also reminded of the vastly superior yet bizarrely vilified Jennifer's Body while watching this, which managed the comedy/horror mix with a lot more gusto, as well as offering a real feminist twist that is so cruelly lacking here.

And it is just not over the top enough, which makes it unpalatable, and rather sad. A case study is a scene which nearly had me walk out, in which a jock punches his cheerleading girl-friend in the face in cold rage. I would have been absolutely fine if he had harpooned her, stabbed both of her eyes with a pair of scissors, or played the banjo with her open ribcage. But this sad act of random domestic violence is too close to reality for comfort, especially since it is not trying to make a serious point either.

There is not a single memorable moment either, and the only redeeming features are an amusing opening scene, and its ending. Shame about anything in between. There is hoping this is just a blip in the illustrious career of Lucky McKee.

Rating: One star out of five

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