Released in 2000, Bring It On helped define teen movies for a generation, leading a legion of high schoolers to sign up for their own cheerleading teams. The film tells a classic underdog story in which one dedicated cheerleading team works hard until they are rewarded with the championship, defeating their mean-spirited rivals in the process. Besides that, the teen drama sprinkled all over Bring It On turned it into a central part of slumber parties in the early 2000s. It’s not hard to understand the lasting appeal of Bring It On because we all need a feel-good story from time to time. However, the franchise grew stale over the years to the point where it got lost in the direct-to-video wasteland.
The franchise’s dire condition is what makes the concept of Bring It On: Cheer or Die so enticing. By changing the focus from teen drama to horror, the franchise can finally bring something new to fans. On top of that, the weird proposition of making a horror movie that still feels at home in the Bring It On universe is curious enough to spark curiosity even in people who ignored the franchise in the first place. Unfortunately, despite a few inspired creative choices, Cheer or Die crumbles under the weight of its PG-13 rating, while also failing to embrace the campy nature of its story. There’s a fun horror movie hidden in Cheer or Die, but by the end of its 90-minute runtime, the surprising Bring It On sequel just feels like a huge wasted opportunity.
Credit where credit’s due, Cheer or Die opens strong, with a well-choreographed cheerleading presentation that carves its place in the Bring It On franchise, followed by a murder that underlines this is a horror movie. For its first act, Cheer or Die also seems conscious of how absurd its story really is and lets the cast have fun playing one-dimensional characters that are obvious parodies of high school stereotypes. Finally, the first few times the masked killer attacks are overflowing with originality. Yes, there are unique kills in Cheer or Die, even for slasher veterans. And they would all look amazing if it weren’t for the PG-13 rating dumbing the film down.
While the PG-13 rating allows Cheer or Die to target the franchise’s primary audience, teens, the lack of blood frequently breaks the immersion. The movie suggests some gruesome deaths occur all over an abandoned school – a fresh scenario that gives the masked killer some new tools to play around with. Nevertheless, since the bodies cannot show too many signs of violence, and the key moments of each murder happen out of the frame, we cannot help but feel that Cheer or Die is hiding the best it has to offer. A movie does not need gore to be fun or scary. Even so, a slasher with no explicit kills or high emotional stakes is doomed to vanish in an overcrowded market. This takes us to the next big problem of Cheer or Die: it’s impossible to care for the cast.
While Cheer or Die presents its team of cheerleaders as easy targets for a deranged killer, the movie can still hold together as casual fun. There’s just no way to take seriously a group of cheerleaders using their gymnastic skills to evade a masked killer, and if Cheer or Die kept focusing on the comedy of the situation, the Bring It On sequel could be amusing. But, alas, there comes the point where all the cards are on the table, and the movie shifts its tone to become a supposedly tense game of cat and mouse where past traumas emerge and the main characters must face their fears to overcome tragedy. The attempt to steer the boat towards any kind of dramatic course comes too late, and what is worse is that it overthrows a perfectly fine comedic plot. Cheer or Die still wants to have its fair share of teen drama, but it shoehorns character growth in a movie that is just too silly. That could have been a strength, but it becomes a weakness for a lack of commitment to the joke.
Cheer or Die deserves at least the praise for trying something new with an almost dead franchise, especially when it proposes to deviate so much from the previous movies. Unfortunately, for a horror version of Bring It On to work, it would need to accept that campiness is a powerful tool instead of trying to hide it away halfway into the story. As it is, Cheer or Die is just not funny, scary, or moving enough. Let’s just hope they retry this intriguing experiment in the future, but this time focusing on the dark comedy Cheer or Die could have been.
SYFY premieres Bring It On: Cheer or Die on October 8 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.