Cheap Cheerleader Slasher Bring It On: Cheer or Die Just Isn’t Captain Material

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Cheap Cheerleader Slasher Bring It On: Cheer or Die Just Isn’t Captain Material

The self-aware slasher was popularized back in 1996 by Wes Craven’s witty genre-parody Scream, and horror filmmakers haven’t looked back since. Over the past couple decades, the subgenre has been mutated and reshaped to death, from Drew Goddard’s delightfully-meta, trope-loaded Cabin in the Woods to X, Ti West’s clever commentary on the act of slasher-filmmaking itself.

Bring It On: Cheer or Die, the seventh installment in the cheerleader-centered franchise, tries its best to follow suit—and with good reason. Cheerleaders occupy a special place in the slasher genre. From Cheerleader Camp to Spirit Camp and All Cheerleaders Die, filmmakers and audiences alike have decided that, as perfect distillations of the vapid, sexy blondes typically the first to get picked off by blood-crazed killers, cheerleaders are the perfect slasher victim.

Directed by horror veteran Karen Lam (Evangeline), Bring It On: Cheer or Die follows a cheerleading squad that is banned from performing stunts because a cheerleader at their high school died a gruesome on-stage death 20 years prior. Worried that this restriction will hurt their chances of beating out their competitors, team co-captain Abby (Kerri Medders) suggests that the troupe practice tossing each other around in private ahead of an upcoming showdown. The venue of choice? A creaky old abandoned school across town. What could possibly go wrong?

Almost as soon as the cheerleaders arrive at their makeshift rehearsal space and start practicing their buckets and handsprings, members of the squad start getting picked off one by one by a killer dressed up as the school mascot. And when they discover they are locked in the building, the team must use their ingenuity—and cheerleading moves, of course!—to defeat the murderer before they’re all toast.

There are a number of moments in Cheer or Die where Lam and writers Rebekah McKendry (of this year’s Glorious) and Dana Schwartz attempt a satirical, Scream-esque self-awareness. The team finds a list of character descriptions, ordered using a points system. “Hot blonde,” reads one line. “Klutzy nerd,” reads another. In another brief and obvious joke, a cheerleader gets her foot caught in a bear trap and asks out loud if this is a Saw situation.

But after brushing up against these self-referential moments, Cheer or Die doesn’t do much with them. What results is nothing more than a stale re-slashing of the subgenre. After finding the list, the characters know they are in the plot of a slasher movie. But nothing subverts tropes or transforms them into anything new, let alone allows Cheer or Die to take a step off of the beaten plot-path. Also, why introduce one Saw trap if none of the other kills are going to resemble one? Perhaps Cheer or Die could beat these bad parody allegations if the film didn’t try so damn hard to be funny at every corner. But from a character doing a backflip away from the killer, to others cramming in fake Gen Z lingo, the film comes off as desperate.

But even taking away Cheer or Die’s fruitless attempts at humor, it simply lacks the budget to be scary in the way that it wants to be. The camera cuts away nearly every time a character is killed, using tense music in a half-hearted attempt to secure scares, despite never actually showing us anything that scary. The cutaways are especially frustrating because some of the kills are genuinely creative and blood-curdling. (I knew my long-standing fear of paper-trimmers wasn’t totally unfounded.) To give Lam the benefit of the doubt, this is a TV movie, so perhaps leaving things to the imagination is her way of evading too harsh of a rating while saving money. Still, a slasher film with hardly any blood is hard to stomach any way you slice it.

But what Cheer or Die lacks in originality or substance, it makes up for with its cast, who aren’t afraid to lean into full, unbridled camp. Medders plays Abby with an earnest final-girl demeanor, and Alexandra Beaton is delightfully over-the-top as the freaked-out Reagon. But it is Missi Pyle who really understands the assignment as Principal Simmons, donning sunglasses and a wicked smile with ease, evoking her delightfully villainous role as Mrs. Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Cheer or Die is also paced quickly enough to confidently keep its audience’s attention. It moves like a well-choreographed cheer routine, never lingering on a conversation for too long, and never waiting too long before delivering its next kill. The film falls short in terms of scares and originality, and it likely won’t be the talk of the horror community, but it proves that it’s hard to go too wrong when it comes to a group of cheerleaders being hunted down by their own mascot.

Director: Karen Lam
Writers: Rebekah McKendry, Dana Schwartz
Stars: Keri Medders, Tiera Skovybe, Missi Pyle, Alexandra Beaton, Sam Robert Muik, Cassandra Potenza, Alec Carlos, Marlowe Zimmerman, Erika Prevost
Release Date: October 5, 2022

Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.

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