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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

May director Lucky McKee takes another misstep with All Cheerleaders Die

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What happened to Lucky McKee? About a decade ago, the writer-director seemed like a new hope for horror. His breakthrough, May, offered a fresh, idiosyncratic blend of genres; it tucked a character study into a gory, black comedy, resulting in something wonderfully unclassifiable. But setting aside “Sick Girl,” his terrific contribution to Showtime’s defunct Masters Of Horror series, McKee has been in a serious slump ever since. There are few traces of inspiration in the girls’ school snoozer The Woods, or in his twin Jack Ketchum adaptations, Red and The Woman. And now comes All Cheerleaders Die, a shrill, unfunny horror comedy McKee wrote and directed with Chris Sivertson. The film is a slicker remake of the duo’s shared debut, a long-unavailable cheapie they made together back in 2001. Any hope, however, that it might also represent a return to the strange charms of May is dashed almost immediately, around the time the movie introduces its generic troupe of high-school heroines.

McKee fans, if there are any left, may be tempted to blame the general shoddiness of Cheerleaders on his co-pilot, whose most notable credit is the dreadful Lindsay Lohan thriller I Know Who Killed Me. But McKee’s mark is all over the movie—in its femme-centric plot, its sapphic romance, and its wall-to-wall soundtrack of obscure (a.k.a. affordable) indie pop. When her queen-bee best friend croaks in a freak cheerleading accident, Maddy (Caitlin Stasey) infiltrates the squad, swearing revenge against the dead girl’s bereaved boyfriend, high-school football captain Terry (Tom Williamson), who’s quickly rebounded with another cheerleader (Brooke Butler). Things get out of hand quickly, however, and a confrontation with Terry and his teammates leads to the whole cheer team driving off of a ravine and drowning in the lake below. Unfortunately for the jocks responsible, the girls are quickly revived as vengeful vampires by the class witch (Sianoa Smit-McPhee, dressing and behaving a lot like Angela Bettis in May).

In other words, what starts as a glorified Pretty Little Liars episode eventually evolves (devolves?) into a flippant hybrid of The Craft and I Know What You Did Last Summer. None of the subsequent mayhem is remotely frightening—in part because the filmmakers play it mainly for laughs, but also because the glowing-crystal, blood-feast special effects are incredibly chintzy. That would be less fatal if All Cheerleaders Die was populated by distinctive personalities. But as much as McKee and Sivertson strive for a Heathers-style irreverence, their characters are just soulless adolescent archetypes—the driven Final Girl, the Wiccan wallflower, the jock sociopath, and so forth. (The stoner kid, for example, is introduced emerging from a smoky van, wearing a “legalize weed” shirt, as though the filmmakers feared that viewers wouldn’t grasp his one and only trait without an accompanying slogan.) What’s most depressing is that these walking mannequins were at least partially conceived by McKee, who seems to have permanently misplaced the gift for character development he exhibited in May. The director’s too young to be succumbing to the curse of the aging horror auteur; Dario Argento had been making movies for 25 years before he started churning out junk this dispiriting.