The Cheerleader Murders, a pretty decent made for TV film, claims to be “inspired by true events.” A claim made by many films, some not true at all, for instance the Coen Bros film Fargo.. In this case, the film is true enough, albeit in disguise; it is a thinly veiled retelling of a slew of deaths in Dryden, New York .
The normally small and quiet suburban town was struck by a “curse” which apparently started in 1989, with an entire family being murdered execution style, and culminated in the murder, and dismemberment of two teenage cheerleaders in 1996.
(There is an “epilogue of death” where two classmates of the murdered teens died three years later, one in an accident and the other by suicide.)
At the start of The Cheerleader Murders, Ellie (Samantha Boscarino) tells us, via voiceover, that she believes in curses and that her town suffers from one. In short order the girl recounts a string of tragedies, her sister and father are murdered by an angry ex-boyfriend and a few accidental deaths of fellow classmates add to the “curse.”
Two of Ellie’s cheerleader friends go missing; Morgan (Hannah Kasulka) and Dee (Amanda Leighton) after a girl’s night “in” goes wrong. The first cheerleader is found in pieces outside of town and Dee is still missing.
Ellie and the police try to find the missing girl and the killer. It is Ellie who stumbles across Dee and as the suspect list grows, it now appears that the last cheerleader, the one investigating, is in danger.
Written by Matt Young and directed by David Jackson, someone well versed in TV movies as well as television series as a helmsman, The Cheerleader Murders has a stamp of authority, it feels like a true story.
While the character of Ellie is obviously a fictional creation who ties the dark curse of the two towns together, she and the other characters in the film come over as real. Not only do they look and sound like “normal” teens but they also appear to be the ages that they are meant to be portraying.
Ellie, who saw her father shot to death in front of her, has dreams of her deceased dad. The dream father at one point is eating straight from a tub of ice cream. He asks Ellie if she is going to stop him from eating it all. Later, in another dream she asks him, “you are not really here, are you?”
There are elements of Scream here. A multitude of suspects; one of whom is Ellie’s boyfriend Nicolas (Austin Lyon), another is the high school coach. An FBI agent arrives, Special Agent Martinez (David DeSantos) and even he seems to be a suspect, in Ellie’s eyes at least. A hooded character with a knife and even cell phones play a part in the storyline, although there is no Roger Jackson to do a menacing voice on the other end the phone.
In The Cheerleader Murders Ellie does a “Nancy Drew” and investigates on her own and puts her own life in danger while attempting to find the still missing Dee.
While the body count is a tad high, for a TV movie, the gore factor is low and there are no protracted scenes of violence against the young females who die. The most violent acts deal with Ellie and her friend trying to escape from the hooded killer.
Boscarino gives her character a sense of realism and truth even when she rashly follows a suspicious car one gets the feeling that this is not beyond what the teenager would do. The police and the people in the film all act as one would expect them to in real life.
Unlike many “based on a true story” films, one feels this story is real, despite only being inspired by true events and not an actual recounting of same. Perhaps the one thing missing from the tale is the reactions of the towns people.
In 2006 in the town of Ipswich, Suffolk, UK five young prostitutes were murdered; their bodies dumped, in some cases near houses and in plain sight. The effect of these young women’s deaths galvanized a community and deeply moved those in the town and country.
This is missing in the film, and it could have been easily shown in the high school, but time, in these things is a factor, so it makes sense that it was not included.
The Cheerleader Murders is a taut and well written TV movie. All the players convince as their respective characters and the sets look like small town America. The film airs again on 10 and 11 April via LMN and Lifetime will air the film on 15 and 16 April.