Not Just Who, but Why?
A common retort online commenters have when confronted with a movie they personally have no interest in seeing is, “who asked for this?” It’s a response that presumes a movie must have no value if its premise is too weird, niche, or of otherwise limited interest to a widespread audience. Of course this is nonsense because every movie has value to someone. Sometimes though, that value can be tricky to find and articulate.
When it was announced that the Bring It On franchise would enter the world of horror with its seventh entry, the news was largely met with bewilderment. Why would anyone think a Bring It On horror movie is a good idea?
The original Bring It On came out in 2000 and became a cult classic, but everything after that has been direct-to-video and of greatly varying quality. The franchise was definitely running out of steam, with only one movie, Bring It On: Worldwide Cheersmack (2017), being released in the entire decade of the 2010s. With nothing to lose, maybe the question shouldn’t be “why did this get made,” but “why not?”
Bring It On: Cheer or Die received mostly dismal reviews upon its staggered DVD and TV release, so is it a failed experiment? If not, what is the value of a movie like this? Also, who did ask for it? Before a case is made to provide answers, the most important question must be addressed.
Is ‘Bring It On: Cheer or Die’ Any Good?
To be blunt, Bring It On: Cheer or Die is not a very good movie. It’s a nearly bloodless PG-13 teen slasher comedy sandwiched between the beginning and ending of a cheerleading competition movie. Some effort was made to incorporate cheerleading into the slasher portion of the movie, and that’s where Cheer or Die is at its most fun, but overall the movie doesn’t fully deliver on either of the genres it attempts.
The basic premise follows the familiar slasher setup of a tragedy years prior leading directly to a mass murder years later. In Cheer or Die, the tragedy is the (sort of) accidental death of a cheerleader during the performance of a stunt by the Elk Moore Diablos cheer squad. The death occurred in 2002, and 20 years later stunts are still banned at Elk Moore High School. The current Diablos squad is tired of getting outshined by a rival squad though, and they decide to practice stunts secretly (on Halloween night) at an abandoned high school across town so the principal (Missi Pyle) won’t find out. Murder ensues.
In many ways, Cheer or Die feels like the filmmakers simply took a generic slasher plot and threw a bunch of cheerleaders into it. That’s a perfectly fine thing to do, and it’s been done a few times before. Cheerleader Camp (1988) immediately springs to mind as a cheesy and fun example. The issue comes down to execution. Cheer or Die was made primarily for distribution on the Syfy cable network, and it errs extremely far on the side of caution when it comes to blood and violence. The blood is almost non-existent, and the violence is tame and usually happens off-screen during a cutaway (especially towards the end of the movie when it feels like footage is actually missing). If a slasher flick doesn’t have a great story, then it should at least be really gory. Cheer or Die struggles on both counts.
The more obvious point is that this shouldn’t have been just a formulaic slasher movie that happens to have cheerleading in it. By being part of the “Bring It On” franchise, there was a built-in opportunity to set itself apart from other slashers. Bring It On, as a series, is built around cheerleading competitions. While there is always in-fighting within the main cheer squad in each movie, the stories’ main thrust is generally about the squad working towards winning a competition against a rival squad. All character decisions and interactions are informed by the motivation of being the best and winning, and the rival squads interact often. In Cheer or Die, even though the competitive drive of the Diablo cheer squad motivates them to practice, the actual competition aspect of the movie is, at best, an afterthought. So unfortunately, it’s a Bring It On movie in name only.
That’s not to say the movie is all bad. Some viewers will have fun with the intentional campiness of it. Others may get enjoyment from the sheer absurdity of it all, maybe in a “so bad it’s good” way, or maybe in an “I unironically enjoy bad movies” way. And there are a few legitimately good scenes. Without really spoiling anything, the best parts of the movie come when the surviving cheerleaders start to fight back using their cheer skills. It’s brief, but it finally gives a reason for the premise, and it completes a shallow but satisfying character arc for the squad’s co-captain Abby.
Ultimately though, to answer the original question, no, Bring It On: Cheer or Die is not a good enough slasher to please most horror fans, and it’s not close enough to a Bring It On movie for it to please most fans of the franchise. However, it will be entertaining for small, specific audiences.
So What’s the Point?
So if the movie isn’t good, or, more properly stated, if it will only be enjoyable for a relatively small group of people, then what’s the point? What’s the value in it? The greatest value comes from an established franchise taking a chance with something completely unexpected.
Imagine if other non-horror franchises decided to take a chance on something completely outside of their established genre. Fast & Furious, but Dom and his family are racing to fight against an alien invasion. Rocky/Creed, but there’s a new up-and-coming boxer murdering people in the ring. Mission: Impossible, but Ethan Hunt and his team must infiltrate a Satanic cult and stop them from raising an army of demons. All of these ideas may sound really stupid, but they could also be a lot of fun for the right audience. Stupid horror can be just as entertaining as intellectual horror.
Realistically, Bring It On probably only took a chance on horror because, as stated above, the franchise was fading away. Doing something so bizarre and out-of-character is a way to regain some attention. Also, horror has been steadily rising in mainstream popularity in the years since Bring It On has faded, so it makes sense to take a chance with something that is virtually guaranteed to attract attention regardless of the quality of the final product. Plus, since the budget for Cheer or Die is presumably very low, it wouldn’t take much to turn a profit and possibly greenlight another cheer-horror hybrid.
Most big-money franchises understandably don’t have the luxury of gambling on putting out a movie that might alienate its core audience, so the above examples won’t ever happen (though Fast & Furious vs. Aliens probably isn’t out of the question). But that doesn’t mean other franchises can’t do it. Bring back Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but it’s about werewolves. Clueless, but it’s a gory slasher movie. Austin Powers, but it’s a riff on Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. Ocean’s 11, but it’s full of zombies (which is kind of what they did with Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead). If Cheer or Die can spark this kind of thinking, then it’s an experiment that absolutely succeeded.
More Horror is Never a Bad Thing
To circle back around to the original question, who asked for Bring It On: Cheer or Die? Well, probably nobody. Aside from those of us who fall into the very thin sliver in the middle of the Venn diagram where “cheerleader movie enthusiasts” overlaps with “slasher film fanatics,” who knew to ask for something like that? But that raises the question: who asked for a lot of the movies released in 2022? Who knew to ask for Ti West’s X or Pearl before they came out and surprised everyone? How many people could have thought up the wild plot of Barbarian and asked a studio to make it? Few people, truly. Those and many other movies are fantastic not because fans knew they wanted them, but because a filmmaker had an idea that turned into a movie people never knew they wanted.
The question is all wrong. We should never ask “who asked for this?” It doesn’t matter who asked for it. It doesn’t matter if no one asked for it. Why not make a movie about a famous rock band making an album in a haunted house and getting murdered by a possessed bandmate (like in Studio 666)? Why not make a movie about a curse that causes people to kill themselves while smiling (like in Smile)? Make these movies, and make more. Make as many horror movies as you can.
As horror fans, we should want more horror. Good horror, bad horror, fun horror. All of it. For most people, only a small portion of all the horror movies that get made will connect with them, and that’s fine. It’s a highly subjective genre, and that’s why more horror is never a bad thing.
Bring It On: Cheer or Die may not succeed terribly well in what it intends to do, but it’s good that it exists. Cynical and overly-dramatic reviews frame Cheer or Die as a waste of time, but more forgiving reviews focus on its moments of fun. It’s a PG-13 slasher that could easily be a gateway for younger viewers interested in horror. Growing up, I saw plenty of horror movies that are legitimately terrible, and I still enjoy them for what they are. Again, Cheerleader Camp (1988) immediately springs to mind as an example. Dismissing a movie by wondering who asked for it is counter-productive to expanding horror, because you never know what is going to connect with someone. Besides, I did kind of enjoy Bring It On: Cheer or Die despite its flaws.