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last update 24.Aug.14
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All Cheerleaders Die
dir-scr Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson
prd Robert Tonino, Andrew van den Houten
with Caitlin Stasey, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, Brooke Butler, Tom Williamson, Amanda Grace Cooper, Reanin Johannink, Nicholas S Morrison, Chris Petrovski, Leigh Parker, Jordan Wilson, Felisha Cooper, Michael Bowen
All Cheerleaders Die release US 13.Jun.14,
UK 12.Sep.14
13/US 1h29

SUNDANCE FILM FEST london film festival
All Cheerleaders Die What starts as an edgy teen revenge drama gleefully shifts into a gonzo supernatural comedy as it goes along. Filmmakers McKee and Sivertson have a great time playing with both hot cheerleader imagery and gleefully grisly nastiness. And while the film has a splintered and unfocussed plot, the increasing mayhem is hilarious.

As the school year begins, Maddy (Stasey) tries out for cheerleading simply to ruin the mean girls' senior year. This annoys her creepy stalker Leena (Smit-McPhee), who teams up with much-abused mascot Hannah (Cooper) to cast a spell on her. Meanwhile, Maddy convinces head cheerleader Tracy (Butler) to break up with football captain Terry (Williamson), sparking a war between the jocks and the cheerleaders. And things turn nasty when the girls crash their car in the river and the boys refuse to help them. So it's up to Leena to work some even darker magic.

The escalation of outrageously supernatural nastiness draws in elements of body-swap comedies, teen-witch freakouts and zombie horror. And it gets increasingly gruesome as the clash between the cliques progresses. Through this, only a few characters try to maintain a level head, such as sensitive quarterback Vik (Wilson). Most of these people become heightened versions of the usual teen movie types, such as cheerleader Martha (Johannink), Hannah's big sister who becomes something of a supervillain.

Beneath the script's sassy dialog and gonzo violence, there's an intriguingly emotional tone that explores the darker side of adolescent life. And it's given a nice twist by taking a female perspective: a cheerleader who is an acceptable lust object for the entire football team. As it shifts gears, the plot spirals out of control into a flurry of manic twists, turns and revelations. Even as it gets increasingly crazed, it's sharply directed and edited, and acted with full-bodied energy.

As the story races through a series of frenzied climaxes, McKee and Siverton have a lot of fun with horror movie cliches: ominous statements, sudden shocks, cars revving in the street at night, people with motives for murder, pool parties, a rave in the cemetery. Plus of course the tensions between smart and dumb students, jocks and cheerleaders, goths and wannabes. And while it drifts far over the top, it also manages to find some pointed truths that make it more than a mere empty-headed massacre.

18 themes, language, strong violence
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The Mirror
dir-scr Edward Boase
prd Edward Boase, Hamish Moseley
with Joshua Dickinson, Jemma Dallender, Nate Fallows, Abby Ford, Roisin Rae
dickinson, fallows and dallender release UK 8.Sep.14
14/UK 1h28

The Mirror Based on a true story, this found-footage thriller has a nicely comical tone before the usual genre weaknesses set in. Like most of these movies, the story drags badly in the middle as the characters wait for the other shoe to drop. And it never quite comes together in the end. But it's an enjoyable romp, with some great freak-out moments along the way.

When they learn about a $1 million paranormal video challenge, three young Londoners decide to go for it. Matt (Dickinson) had a childhood experience with a ghost, but Jemma (Dallender) is a skeptic and Steve (Fallows) has doubts but hopes it's true. So they buy a supposedly cursed mirror on eBay and set out to get something on video. After a dull start, Jemma and Steve catch Matt sleepwalking, so they fit him with a body-cam. And after they try to tempt fate with an Ouija board, some very strange things start happening.

While the set-up is reminiscent of Paranormal Activity, the characters add a blast of energy to the early scenes. Despite the improbably gorgeous flat they live in, these are realistic young people who constantly joke around. Dialog feels improvised, packed with hilarious comments and snappy comebacks. And just as it all begins to feel far too smiley and silly, a very dark undertone emerges both in their interrelationships and in the intensely nasty things that take place around them.

Indeed, what happens is deeply unsettling, straining their friendship to the breaking point. And the three actors play each scene with earthy, offhanded honesty, even as the chaos begins to repeat itself. After the red herrings of the film's first act, the middle section gets stuck in a rut, using the same jolts over and over again as the plot spirals to a standstill. And most annoyingly, there are scenes included that are essential to the film but can't possibly be part of this "found footage".

That said, there are continual shocks as well as some terrific surprises, as filmmaker Boase attempts to break some of the genre stereotypes. Several of the creepiest moments have comical payoffs, which cleverly sets up the audience for the proper scary stuff. The idea that this is based on a real "haunted mirror" adds a bit of weight. And it's rather telling that the filmmakers actually got their hands on the real mirror, but were too frightened to use it in the movie.

NB. The DVD includes a 15-minute conversation with the two guys (Sotaris Charalambous and Joseph Birch) who owned the actual mirror, talking about their experiences and showing a few eerie images and video clips of unexplained activity.

15 themes, language, violence
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Turtle Hill, Brooklyn
dir Ryan Gielen
scr Brian W Seibert, Ricardo Valdez
prd Holly Lynn Ellis, Brian W Seibert, Ricardo Valdez
with Brian W Seibert, Ricardo Valdez, Deirdre MacNamara, Ariel Bonilla, Jeanne Slater, Josh Marcantel, Michael Edmund, Nate Dendy, Jose Joaquin Perez, Joie Bauer, Holly Lynn Ellis, Maryll Botula
valdez and seibert
release US 3.May.13,
UK 14.Jul.14
13/US 1h17
Turtle Hill, Brooklyn This meandering ensemble drama bristles with real-life emotion, although it also feels oddly limited: a story about one night in the life of a rather normal gay couple. Amid the snappy dialog and interpersonal melodrama, this is a thoughtful and moving exploration of openness and honesty within relationships.

As Will (Seibert) wakes up on his 30th birthday, his boyfriend Mateo (Valdez) has a special day planned. But things are derailed when Will's sister Molly (Slater) arrives and is shocked to discover that her brother is gay. She leaves in a storm, and it takes Will awhile to recover. But the arrival of a houseful of friends to celebrate with him helps. As does the food, drink, hot tub, a homemade piñata and a batch of pot brownies. On the other hand, Will's flirty personal trainer (Mercantel) sparks another crisis.

The film is relatively unstructured, with a narrative that only occasionally snaps into focus when something pointed happens. Instead, the camera merely cuts from conversation to conversation, gathering snippets of life experiences from the wide variety of friends at the party. Memorable moments include the discovery that one guest is a Log Cabin Republican, Molly returning to insist that Will gets treatment for his abnormality, and a couple of difficult confessions from Mateo.

All of this is shot in a relaxed, unfussy way, with performances that feel improvised and a tone that's sweet and summery with the occasional shadow of real life emotion. There are so many characters that it's impossible to work out how everyone is interconnected, and with the single setting it feels a lot like an overcrowded stage play, especially as the conversations drift into hot topics like politics, fidelity and religion.

Since everything feels realistic, the soap-style plotlines thankfully never become too over-dramatic. And the actors all create an authentically light, comical party-time interaction that's underscored by the occasional deeper, more serious issue. Ultimately, the most salient point, never explicitly stated, is that Will has a real family all around him who can cope with any high and low that comes along, even if his sister can't.

15 themes, language
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dir-scr Luke Hyams
prd David Gilbery, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones
with Melia Kreiling, Nick Blood, Mark Bonnar, Olivia Popica, Sophie Harkness, Jemma O'Brien, James Lecky, Fergal McElherron, Simone Kirby, Victor O'Brien, Bert O'Brien, Wayne Marc Godfrey
kreiling and blood
release UK Aug.14 ff
14/UK 1h24

xmoor There's a clever premise to this darkly scary British horror thriller, which mixes together a few sub-genres to create a strongly original movie. The technical quality is high, as is the acting. So it's frustrating that most of the story takes place at nighttime when it's impossible to properly see what's happening.

American filmmaker Georgia (Kreiling) convinces her boyfriend Matt (Blood) to travel with her to England to investigate a series of mysterious killings by a big cat in Exmoor, North Devon. Even better, a local newspaper is offering a £25,000 reward for film of the legendary "beast". Working with a veteran tracker named Fox (Bonnar), they've only just set up a series of cameras when they discover the bodies of several women who definitely weren't killed by a panther. And Fox thinks hunting a serial killer is far more interesting than chasing a cat.

Writer-director Hyams opens with a random glimpse of a girl being attacked in the woods before threatening the audience with yet another found-footage thriller. Thankfully that's just the first red herring, and what follows is extremely well shot, with a terrific sense of foreboding as nothing quite goes to plan for Georgia and Matt. The actors give superbly off-handed performances, making the most of improv-style dialog that's enjoyably packed with apparently irrelevant back-stories and side-plots. As a result, the characters become likeable, and we worry about what might happen.

The spectacular landscape adds a nice counterpoint to the story, which gets increasingly violent as it progresses. And there's an inventive tone to the film that helps keep us off-balance. So we're just as freaked out as Georgia and Matt are by what they stumble into, from Fox's crazed junkie cohort (Harkness) to a creepy little girl (O'Brien). Matt's panic and mistrust are the most identifiable emotions, although the bickering between him, Georgia and Fox becomes somewhat tiresome until thinks kick off.

Despite the superior cinematography, this one of those annoying films in which almost everything happens in pitch darkness. So most of the scares are of the bump-in-the-night variety and most of the action and violence is indecipherable. As a result, much of the suspense evaporates from the screen, so it's a good thing the actors are so strong at conveying their terror. And when the morning dawns, things are pretty nasty indeed.

15 themes, language, violence
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