The idea of women as a hive of temptation and the resulting dilution of masculinity is not a new one. From Succubi, to Sirens and Mermaids, the idea of a group of women leading men to their doom have been around for millennia. That very specific fraternal fear has also lent itself to a multitude of horror films. While the content has differed from total misogyny to a feminist lampooning of the idea of the feminine destructor, the basic structure of the coven of womanly revenge has thrived in horror. Add the latest from Lucky McKee and Chris Siverston to the list of this familiar thematic battle between the sexes.
The real question is where on the spectrum of vengeful women tales that All Cheerleaders Die ultimately falls. Is it a feminist treaty against oppression or is it an attack on the supposed damage a woman can inspire in the hearts of men? The truth is that it lies somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. While the men in the film are the obvious aggressors and the ultimate antagonists, the women aren’t completely let off the hook in this world. With a good helping of backstabbing and strategically gratuitous skin exposure, the women here never really feel one-hundred percent victimized. The combination of slow-motion, montages, and general camera leering gives the impression that the filmmakers are saying, “yeah, these guys are bad, but look at these chicks”.
That added layer of nubile woman-watching adds a component to the film that raises it from fun “Heathers”esque dark comedy into something that dances a little too closely to the big ol’ M: Misogyny. It’s hard to jump right to thematic woman hating though, especially since Lucky McKee has a pretty strong history of strong female characters that actively defy the roles put upon them. Through that lens, one could argue that All Cheerleaders Die is a double pronged parody. One prong for sexism, the other for high school culture.
No one is noble in this movie, the largest problem, before the inciting incident anyway, is cliques. Cool kids versus nerdy kids, girls versus boys, and so on. With that in mind, the seeming sexism is a little less literal and a little more indicative of the portrayal of teen culture as a hormone-induced exaggeration of the shallow end of the dating pool. These newly pubescent characters are still learning their own sexuality and the loaded interactions with other sexual beings that results from it.
So with the sexism arguably explained and rationalized as parody, the real problem with All Cheerleaders Die is that most of the parody is just too silly to work. You can feel the comedic moments, but they never quite landed as intended. It is difficult for a parody to work effectively when the moments never feel successfully comedic. It’s exaggerated, it’s ridiculous, but it’s not pointed. All that parody is so diffused and unorganized that it just feels aimless and slight.
With that said, parody and comedy are perhaps the most subjective areas of storytelling. What doesn’t work for one, could be a masterpiece to another. To say “it wasn’t funny” is a pretty flimsy criticism. So, to be fair, All Cheerleaders Die could work like gangbusters for a large percentage of the audience. The real criticism, then, is that the film just felt overly simplified narratively. Perhaps it’s the fact that this is a feature spawned from a short film. The running time goes by quickly, but when the end credits roll it feels incomplete. It feels like a short film set-up with extended montages and fight scenes to fill the feature-length runtime.
Walking away from All Cheerleaders Die resulted in a bit of disappointment, but on reflection, it is hard to really say why. Was it the hazy sexism stance? Was it the surface level characterizations? Perhaps it was the general silliness? Regardless of what caused it, All Cheerleaders Die does feel like a rough draft of the a much fuller, more constructed film. It’s not as if the movie is bad, it’s just that it feels like it isn’t as good as it could have been.