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FrightFest 2014: 'All Cheerleaders Die' review

★★★☆☆
Devoted horror fans Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson combine for knowing FrightFest 2014 offering All Cheerleaders Die (2013), a jocular genre piece that subverts the popular high school movie template in favour of a more menacingly comic - and bloody - offering. A rollercoaster ride of tongue-in-cheek cliché, there's plenty of fun to be had with this cheekily reverential horror; yet, a dependence on the sexualisation of the female form anchors the film firmly within 'knowing' horror misogyny. Maddy (played by Caitlin Stasey) takes the horrific death of a local cheerleader to heart, deciding to no longer be quite so cynical of this archaic tradition and in turn spontaneously signing herself up for the team.

It soon transpires that Maddy's intentions might not be as innocent as they first appear, infiltrating the upper-strata of the high school in order to bring down the typically handsome and strapping captain of the football team. Maddy's ex-girlfriend and local "wicker bullshit" aficionado Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee, sister of Kodi) is oblivious to her plan, genuinely believing that Maddy has merely turned into yet another pompom-flaunting harlot. However, Leena's objection doesn't stop her rushing to Maddy's aid when she, along with her new group of friends, are one day discovered unconscious in a local river - using her supernatural abilities to revive them, whilst accidentally transforming this superficial sect of disingenuous backstabbers into a bloodsucking army of murderous succubi (what else?).

All Cheerleaders Die inseminates its zealous dance sequences of jiggling bodies with the eerie ambiance of female supernatural horrors such as The Craft and Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, transforming into something of a high school phantasmagoria that clearly enjoys wallowing in its own hybrid nature. Lacking both the bravery and ingenuity of Joseph Kahn's delightfully absurd and thematically comparable critique of youth culture, Detention (2011), McKee and Sivertson's somewhat derivative effort whisks by at an exhilarating pace but is ultimately hampered by just how rapidly it punches through the gears - jumping from one set piece to the next in exasperatingly mechanical fashion.

Commendable for presenting its audience with five strong female protagonists, there's a nagging sense that their strength is gained either through the sexual manipulation of their bodies or through supernatural witchcraft. This lazy reliance on the lecherous magnetism of the male gaze and the fetishism of the female form wouldn't be so irksome if the motivation behind McKee and Sivertson's 'scorned woman' wasn't as contrived and unoriginal as it is. Despite its flaws, All Cheerleaders Die fits well into the cult canon and will inevitably find a following amongst the loyal horror collective.

Film4 FrightFest 2014 takes place from 21-25 August. For more of our FrightFest coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble

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