REVIEW: The Cheerleader Trials
– By Michael Sellars
Okay, so here’s the film I thought I was going to review:
A young girl (we’ll call her Jane), ill-at-ease with herself, struggles to fit in with her high school peers. In an effort to be accepted, she tries out for the cheerleading squad. But Brittany, Ashley, Meghan and Nicole can’t accept this doughy runt into their clique and begin to systematically torment her. Then, one by one, the cheerleaders are picked off by a sinister figure dressed as a clown. No, wait. A scarecrow. I don’t know. A circus ringleader? Anyway, it turns out it’s Jane’s religiously fanatical mum, Mary, dressed up as the whatever. And so on. You know, that kind of thing.
Instead what we have here is something altogether more interesting. It’s not so much a movie as a piece of experimental theatre caught on film. The budget isn’t low; it’s almost entirely absent. Most horror filmmakers when faced with a budget that wouldn’t cover the month’s rent take one of two routes. The first is the ‘found footage’ approach, in which bad lighting, shaky camera work and infuriatingly poor sound are transformed into a virtue. This has resulted in some great horror films. The second route, and the most commonly taken, is to just forget you have no money and carry on regardless, letting enthusiasm verging on mania take you across the finishing line. The Ed Wood approach, if you like. This has also resulted in some great horror films. And whole hordes of terrible ones.
The Cheerleader Trials takes a third route, and one not often seen in the horror genre. Minimalism. Consequently, Zach Lorkiewicz’s short film has more in common with Lars Von Trier’s Dogville than Jim Wynorski’s Cheerleader Massacre.
Set backstage during the performance of a play, an all-female theatre troupe begin to turn on one another after something horrible befalls one of the cast members. The acting is solid if, at times, a little stilted and preppy. And, to be honest, it’s difficult to know whether the clipped artificiality of the performances is the result of the cast’s inexperience or is a deliberate measure intended to create unease. Intentional or not, The Cheerleader Trials does make for uneasy viewing.
The direction is robust. From the very start, there is a sense that events are marching toward some terrible denouement. And they are. Predictably so, it seems. But in its final moments, The Cheerleader Trials is anything but predictable and succeeded in wrong-footing me with its eerie, ululating finale. There is something alien and ritualistic in that closing scene that is genuinely unnerving and throws a strange light on the events that preceded it.
It will be interesting to see what Lorkiewicz and his collaborators are capable of if they ever get their hands on a bigger budget and a greater span over which to tell a story.
You can now watch The Cheerleader Trials below!
Read Dale Saxton’s review of Zach Lorkiewicz’s I Love Lucy HERE!