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Karen Lam and Kerri Medders on adding horror to Bring It On: Cheer or Die

In 2000, competitive cheerleading took center stage in the teen comedy, Bring It On. The depiction of rival high school cheerleading teams competing for a championship became a cult classic thanks to its witty script and memorable performances from Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union. The film also used the well-known chant, “Brr! It’s cold in here,” which most likely found its way into your high school’s cheer squad. After five sequels, the franchise is adding a new wrinkle to the formula in the form of a slasher titled Bring It On: Cheer or Die.

It’s Halloween weekend, and Abby (Kerri Medders) and her Diablos teammates convene at an abandoned school to prepare for the cheerleading regionals. Unbeknownst to the team, a killer is on the loose, attacking the cheerleaders one at a time. It culminates with one final showdown where the remaining members will have to use their skills, or die trying. Directed by Karen Lam, Bring It On: Cheer or Die blends cheerleading into a slasher to create a unique horror comedy.

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In an interview with Digital Trends, Lam and Medders discuss the addition of horror to a popular franchise and their newfound respect for competitive cheerleading.

Kerri Medders and her teammates smile and cheer in a scene from Bring It On: Cheer or Die.
BRING IT ON: CHEER OR DIE -- Pictured: (l-r) Kerri Medders as Abby, Sierra Holder as Jackie -- (Photo by: David Bukach/SYFY)

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Digital Trends: Karen, this script comes across your desk, and you see that it’s a Bring It On movie, which is centered around competitive cheerleading. Now, it’s becoming a Halloween slasher. What was your initial reaction?

Karen Lam: To be honest, I didn’t know what Bring It On was so that’s really embarrassing. I’m a horror nut. I thought that was the weirdest title for a horror film. Bring It On? Does that mean, “Bring it on, death?” I was trying to wrap my head around it. Then after reading it, I was like, “Did they get the right person?” I’m known for horror, but I’m not known for cheer. I’m a dork. I’m not coordinated, so I was like, “They have the wrong person for sure.”

In this same vein, Kerri, you get the call to be one of the leads in this well-known franchise. But, it’s now a horror film. What’s your reaction?

Kerri Medders: I love it. I’m such a horror person, and anything with slasher cheerleaders, I’m like, “Why not?” I honestly could not believe it when I got it. I literally, if you could visually see it, fell to my knees and I was like, “Oh my God! I’m going to be a part of the Bring It On franchise, and it’s horror!” [laughs]

Kerri Medders and Tiera Skovbye stand determined in a scene from Bring It On: Cheer or Die.
BRING IT ON: CHEER OR DIE -- Pictured: (l-r) Kerri Medders as Abby, Tiera Skovbye as Mckayla Miller -- (Photo by: David Bukach/SYFY)

Karen, you kind of mentioned you’ve worked a lot with horror. How did you incorporate the teen comedy aspect from the previous Bring It On films with horror elements?

Lam: It was a lot of watching the Bring It On films [laughs]. So I watched it and I was like, “Oh my God!” I loved it, especially the first one. It was ahead of its time and so smart. Because I had my horror references, I had to get up to speed on where teen comedy had gone. I was looking at a lot of films. Basically, the old ’80s films that I actually love, like Heathers. I like dark comedy.

Then, I was also looking at films like Booksmart, where I was thinking, “Oh, I like those characters.” That tone is what I was trying to look for. It’s not anything I’ve ever done before because I tend toward rather dour horror films [laughs]. Elevated horror about deep, dark things. So this was a lot more fun and sort of a different tone for me, for sure.

In the credits, there is a behind-the-scenes look at all the training. Kerri, what was the training like for the cheerleading scenes?

Medders: So honestly, I never cheered in my life. I’m going to tell you that. Tony Gonzalez, who helped do all the choreography, [was] amazing. On the phone, he was like, “Three weeks. I’m going to make you a cheerleader and no one’s going to know.” I was like, “Huh? Okay!”

We woke up early in the morning. I would catch the school bus, go to the rehearsals, and then we’d get off late. We worked and worked. We learned all these skills. I have such an appreciation for cheerleaders now. I literally have a photo on my phone, and I will post it, of all my heating packs and all of the creams to put all over my muscles because let me tell you, I thought, “I don’t know if I can move today, but I got to go.” [Laughs]

BRING IT ON: CHEER OR DIE Teaser (2022) Cheerleader Slasher

Competitive cheerleading is a sport. I know some people say it’s not, but those are real athletes doing it.

Medders: Yes, I 100% agree.

Lam: I’m so happy the studio allowed me to keep it [the video]. We – my DP, me on the iPad, and my first AD – all had our cell phones and that end credit sequence is us filming what we were seeing. I was just so blown by what I was seeing every day at cheer camp. I wanted to make sure that you could see how hard everyone worked for that.

A lot of horrors use the final girl trope. This film shakes it up a bit. It’s a final team. Were there any other changes you tried to incorporate in order to provide a fresh entry into this genre?

Lam: Yeah. I know this is going to be a weird reference, but I was also alluding to the Bad News Bears. I wanted you to like the Diablos. I wanted them to actually feel like friends at the end of it, where you felt bad when they actually died. You know, with a bunch of jerks, you kind of cheer when they die, but I really want to like everybody.

I wanted to make sure that we felt the same way at the end. Killing Scott was one of the first changes I made to the script because to me, boyfriends should not play anything into it. The girlfriend in this case is like “Kill the boyfriend. He’s not interesting.” No offense. Is that bad? [Medders laughs]

Kerri Medders smiles and cheers with her teammates in a scene from Bring It On: Cheer or Die.
BRING IT ON: CHEER OR DIE -- Pictured: (l-r) Tiera Skovbye as Mckayla Miller, Erika Prevost as Tori, Kerri Medders as Abby -- (Photo by: David Bukach/SYFY)

We’ve mentioned that this it’s an entirely new chapter in the Bring It On series. It’s not what fans are used to seeing. What would you say to Bring It On fans who may be hesitant to watch because of this new twist? 

Medders: I think it’s kind of fun. I won’t say refreshing because that sounds so light. I think it is this fun little horror film. Personally, I was kind of laughing during some of the deaths because it incorporates cheer. Give it a shot because it’s a cute little slasher.

Lam: I’d say that the touchstones we had making it go back to the original Bring It On. Also, I watched a lot of series like Cheer and Athlete A during the research. Even though it’s in a horror, we really wanted cheer. I wanted to make sure that it felt like we were paying homage to the sport of cheer as well. So it’s fun, but it’s also the fact that I went from knowing nothing about cheerleading to being a huge convert to what it actually is.

Bring It On: Cheer or Die is now on SYFY.

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