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Lifetime Review: 'Death of a Cheerleader'

Lifetime gives an old classic a surprisingly solid revamp in this retold tale of deadly envy.

At Hollybrook High School, Bridget Moretti (Aubrey Peeples) decides she wants to take her principal's challenge to better herself, idolizing her school's elite clique of popular girls. Leading that group is the pretty and driven Kelly Locke (Sarah Dugdale), who Bridget develops an intense admiration for—one of which increases when Bridget finds herself accepted into the Bobettes, Hollybrook's elite clique, alongside Kelly and her equally popular friends.

However, with her plans of joining the cheerleading squad and yearbook committee falling through, Bridget comes to believe her only way of receiving the popularity and success she desires is to befriend Kelly, culminating in her luring Kelly out late at night to "bond." But after Kelly becomes uncomfortable with Bridget's admiration and leaves her rejected, Bridget retaliates in an unspeakable act of violence that leaves Kelly dead and their small town shaken to its core with grief. Will the truth heal the town, or just cause more heartache for everyone involved?

Lately, Lifetime has taken to remaking classic films from under their belt, with the more recent No One Would Tell reboot being much more well-received than the divisive response of Lifetime's vampire-centric Mother, May I Sleep with Danger? reboot received. While Death of a Cheerleader at times slips into simply shot-by-shot rehashing its 1994 predecessor, the film ultimately carves itself out into its own creation, thanks in part namely to the respective performances of Aubrey Peeples and Sarah Dugdale.

Bridget Moretti is this remake's Angela Delvecchio, but unlike Kellie Martin, Aubrey Peeples plays Bridget with far more moral ambiguity. While she still maintains the original's protagonist as being a shy girl desperate to feel accepted, Peeples lets the viewer wonder if Bridget's desire is to be accepted and have friends, or if it's just to become as popular and "perfect" as her idolized classmate. Bridget's actions also come with an air of premeditation not present in Angela's, leading to more ambiguity as to whether or not Bridget's actions were the result of a teenage girl losing control of her emotions or an obsessed young woman driven to murder by her desire to have everything she wanted. Kellie Martin also returns in the role of an investigating agent, sharing an emotional scene with Peeples that showcases both of their abilities as the straight-laced agent determined to find justice and a killer falling apart in her attempts to cover her tracks.

More surprisingly, though, was Sarah Dugdale as this remake's version of Stacy Lockwood, with Dugdale giving a far more nuanced and sympathetic performance than Tori Spelling. While Spelling played Stacy with histrionic cruelty that was fun to watch, if not devoid of character depth, Dugdale shows in remarkable subtlety that Kelly Locke, for all of her catty remarks, is not the heartless bully her original counterpart was. Kelly's criticisms regarding Bridget and former popular student Nina Miller also come off as less vicious and more abruptly honest, given the legitimately troubling behavior the two exhibit throughout the film. With all of that in mind, Kelly's final moments of the film are strikingly poignant and heartbreaking, with Dugdale selling the scene with aching sincerity. In other strong performances, Kirsten Robek and Lane Edwards are far more developed as Kelly's parents than their original counterparts, becoming humanized in the wake of their daughter's death, with Robek in particular even providing fuel to the film's different approach to its villainous protagonist. 

Morgan Taylor Campbell is also strong as Nina Miller, the remake's version of Goth Monica, but unfortunately, Campbell's talent is wasted on a far less likable version of the original's understatedly tragic secondary victim alongside Stacy. In this version, Nina starts out as Kelly's friend and fellow popular student, before deciding she's fed up with living up to being a perfect popular girl and decides to "re-invent" herself. That, in itself, is relatable, but Nina's abrupt rejection of Kelly and her other friends comes out of left field and is especially cruel given how we see Kelly do little to warrant this treatment. As a result, it becomes hard to sympathize with Nina as she finds herself wrongfully accused of killing Kelly, and leaves her potentially poignant statements on how the events changed everything feel hollow.

Nevertheless, Death of a Cheerleader is an enjoyable and remarkably acted update to a classic, with strong performances and revamped plot arcs making this reboot both fun and avoiding of the Unnecessary Remake trope. Aside from a few slips, this remake stands up on its own and will be enjoyed by many a Lifetime fan.

Score: 8 out of 10 toolbox knives.

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Lifetime Review: 'Death of a Cheerleader'
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