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LFF 2013: 'All Cheerleaders Die' review

★★★☆☆
Horror fans Lucky McKee and Chris Siverston combine for All Cheerleaders Die (2013), a jocular genre piece that subverts the popular high school movie template in favour of a more menacingly comic 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 (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 sign 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 captain of the football team. Maddy's ex-girlfriend and local "wicker bullshit" aficionado Leena (Sianosa Smit-McPhee) 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 (and her new group of friends) are discovered unconscious in a local river - using her supernatural abilities to revive them, whilst accidentally transforming this superficial sect of disingenuous girls into a bloodsucking army of murderous succubi (naturally).

All Cheerleaders Die inseminates its zealous dance sequences of jiggling bodies with the eerie ambiance of supernatural horrors such as The Craft and Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, transforming into high school phantasmagoria that clearly enjoys wallowing in its own hybridity. Lacking both the bravery and ingenuity of Joseph Kahn's delightfully absurd and thematically comparable critique of youth culture, Detention (2011), McKee and Siverston'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 Siverston's 'scorned woman' wasn't as contrived and unoriginal as it is. Yet despite its may drawbacks, All Cheerleaders Die fits perfectly into the cult canon and will inevitably find a fervent following amongst the horror collective.

The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble
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