Bring it On: Cheer or Die
A group of cheerleaders must survive attacks by a costumed killer in Karen Lam’s Bring it On: Cheer or Die.
In case you’re unaware, Bring it On is a franchise revolving around the world of competitive high school cheerleading, the standalone plots of which often involve the likes of friendship, teamwork, culture clashes and personal growth from leaving your comfort zone. With the films being light-hearted comedies it has also been conspicuously absent of any kind of horror, so the decision to have this seventh instalment be a slasher movie might seem an odd choice, but considering that the series has already had the likes of a cybercrime subplot and a thinly veiled riff on West Side Story, this is not actually as esoteric a choice as you might first think. If nothing else, it works well as an experiment in randomly dropping a genre movie into a series, and one that I hope is repeated in the future.
This time around our heroes are cheer squad the Diablos, who face fierce competition from rivals the Emerald Knights (not, sadly, an undercover group of Green Lanterns), and break into an abandoned school to practice a forbidden routine to bring out at the championship. However, twenty years previously the school was attended by a cheerleader killed in a murder written off as a tragic acrobatic accident, and someone is not willing to let the past rest.
The plot is anchored on cheerleader Abby, thrust into a position of leadership she neither wants nor is ready for, and in another universe, a variation of this story led to a standard franchise entry of her learning to believe in herself through the encouragement of her squad and trust herself as a captain via low-stakes personal trials. There are hints of such a tale amidst the screaming, stabbing, shooting and dying, leaving it a viable franchise entry that isn’t just using such a position for a quick blast of cheap notoriety. Anyway, what we’re here for is gruesome violence and convoluted plotting, and this is unfortunately where the film is at its most mediocre.
While the action generates some interest via the killer using sports equipment as improvised murder weapons, the constraint of the required PG-13 rating results in bloodless violence lacking in intensity while the kills feel robbed of any true payoff. There is also the issue of the film’s tone never really finding a proper balance, switching back and forth between a straight slasher throwback and a comedic send-up of one. While it’s in no way unusual for a contemporary slasher flick to inject some humour into proceedings – often by its culture-savvy young things being metafictionally aware of the subgenre’s traditional tropes – here it’s all largely played straight aside from a glaringly self-aware moment of the characters finding the killer’s checklist of the various teen archetypes they each vaguely characterise. Comedy horrors are by definition scary and funny, but this one struggles to be both these things at the same time, and the end result is like something from a rough draft of Scream Queens before the tongue-in-cheek satire had been properly assembled.
The cast is wide enough that there are enough supporting roles of varying prominence to draft in for periodic deaths, the measured pace of the murder spree leading to some principal characters surviving far longer than you might expect while never reducing the risk of them meeting an untimely demise. Far from the cheerleader focus being a superficial setup, the film actually manages to make use of the concept, in particular an elaborate action set piece where characters’ cheerleading manoeuvres are repurposed as fight moves, demonstrating the genuinely impressive agility and athleticism at their disposal, while other moments see them cartwheel and backflip out the way of loosed arrows.
Lam’s work is usually typified by a powerful atmosphere of ethereal menace, seen in the likes of vengeance thriller Evangeline, esoteric short Chiral or dark fantasy web series Mythos. With this story (more or less) grounded in reality, there is no real opportunity to break out such a skillset, but her talent at transforming everyday locations into sinister nightmares comes through strong. The film may have fared better had it been made about fifteen years ago when the genre’s primary trend was toothless remakes of classic slashers and could have stood out by offering something compellingly different. As it stands, it doesn’t quite live up to its potential, leaving it merely very, very okay.
Bring it On: Cheer or Die has all the ingredients for a traditional slasher flick, but is hamstrung by its unwillingness to push the on-screen brutality. Nevertheless, it remains a self-aware yet largely straight entry in a familiar subgenre that still manages to do justice to the franchise it’s a part of.
- creative deaths
- inventive use of the cheerleading concept
- the sinister atmosphere
- using cheerleading manoeuvres as fight moves
- the bloodless violence
- the unsatisfying kills
- the imbalanced tone
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