Oh, those silly amateur Wiccans trying to play God. Haven’t they learned it never ends well? Bring one cat back to life and you think you can change the course of nature — just because you’re in love. It’s a sweet thought, sure, but as anyone who has ever seen a horror film would say, “There are always consequences.” That whole “one life for another” stuff does its best to balance out the universe without fail. Thankfully, Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson know how to have fun when showing those scales evening out, because we’re going to laugh either way — better to make those chuckles intentional rather than not.
Aptly titled All Cheerleaders Die, the duo’s latest foray into the land of extreme brutality shows us that plastic teens can expire multiple times even if they have a witch guardian angel playing with precious stones and anti-voodoo dolls for their sake. Regular cheerleaders don’t just walk off the field when they break their necks after being dropped on their heads: no, Maddy Killian (Caitlin Stasey) is very fortunate in this manner, even if she’s just pretending to be friends with the vapid pep squad for a little old revenge. It was her old gymnastics bud, Lex (Felisha Cooper), after all, who becomes the victim of the first fatal accident, and watching Miss Popular’s supposed posse’s lack of mourning during the three months of summer afterwards simply couldn’t go ignored.
With Lex barely in the ground, her replacement at the head of the cheer pyramid, Tracy (Brooke Butler), wasted no time getting on top of the grieving Terry (Tom Williamson) — all is fair in love and war, you see. When a catch like him becomes a free agent, you have to act fast before someone else swoops in. While the transgression only warrants Tracy to be enlisted as a pawn, Maddy has bigger plans for the football team’s captain. Making it her mission to ruin Terry’s senior year, she joins the cheer team, tells Tracy he cheated on her, and subsequently becomes the girl’s rebound love just to pour salt in the wound. Play with that kind of fire, though, and you’ll get burned. You just may not realize it’ll come courtesy of someone who isn’t your intended target.
This is where Maddy’s ex, Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee), comes in. Completely in the dark as to the payback scheme, she’s made to watch the girl she loves turn to the dark side. On one hand, she doesn’t want her to get hurt — but on the other is the jealousy of witnessing her canoodle with an enemy. Leena as angry at Maddy as Terry is with Tracy, a night partying within Mount Shebesta Cemetery quickly turns ugly. People die, they’re resurrected, and ultimately all manifest super strength and a hunger for blood alongside wicked tempers. This wouldn’t be too bad, save for the fact that a lack of morality sets in and turns their aggression into murder. Not to be outdone, however, Terry takes keen notice that the power resides in glowing, demonically enchanted gems embedded in the undead bodies.
The beauty of what McKee and Sivertson have created is that the focal point continuously changes. We begin with Lex as the star, shift to Maddy, and, eventually, land on Leena before her meddling triggers a blanket murder spree. It gets beyond silly as the girls start absorbing their victims’ blood through their skin while Terry Hulks out in an unbridled, crazy rage. There comes to be a physiological connection, wherein the girls feel what each other feels — orgasms, mostly — while two even swap bodies because the insanity obviously wasn’t heading full-on into farce quite yet. The cattiness of these bratty kids should have been enough fodder to carry the mounting vendettas alone, though: adding so much chaos only renders the revelation of true motivations moot as legitimacy gets thrown out the window very early on.
There are some really well-orchestrated blood-and-guts moments, the drained corpses look pretty cool, and the sheer absurdity also allows the actors to be in on the joke. Stasey is definitely the straight man of the bunch, feeling remorse and guilt due to the fact that everything happening is directly her fault; Butler beautifully mixes together every bubbly, doltish cheerleader stereotype you can think of; and Smit-McPhee’s dry delivery transforms what began as a one-dimensional witch into a cynically immature teen just like the rest. Amanda Grace Cooper and Reanin Johannink round out the group as sisters Hanna and Martha — these two unknowingly engaged in a love triangle with the shy and innocent Manny (Leigh Parker) — while Chris Petrovski and Nicholas S. Morrison give them two more footballer victims to torture.
All Cheerleaders Die excels at really not caring about who should live or who shouldn’t because its very premise sees mortality as a rule meant to be broken. McKee and Sivertson fearlessly spice in lewd jokes about the girls’ lack of body temperature, embrace taboo by letting Williamson turn his Terry into the epitome of a misogynistic monster, and still find the time to frame bikinied breasts and asses in close-up whenever possible. Everything’s fair game as long as it results in a bloody mess, dark mysticism, or genuine laughs. Lesbianism, rape, teen homicide, necrophilia, witchcraft — it’s all included, and it’s all shone in a comedic light. I applaud its take-no-prisoners mentality, accurately embellished teen clichés, and ability to elicit some chuckles. With a Carrie-lite tease of a sequel, however, I wonder if we’ve already seen enough.
All Cheerleaders Die plays TIFF on September 5, 6 and 15. See our complete coverage below.