Lifetime Review: 'Cheerleader Abduction'
Jerni Stewart makes a perfect Lifetime Lead debut as a troubled cheerleader who trusts the wrong person.
Trish Patton (Kristen Harris) thinks she has the perfect All-American family. She has a supportive husband, two bright children, and a thriving political career as she works on her campaign for governor. Little does she know that her teenage daughter Olivia (Jerni Stewart) is hiding a big secret: she's pregnant. Abandoned by the baby's father, scared for her future, and fearing how her friends and family will react to the news, Olivia doesn't know what to do.
That's when Olivia meets Pam Fairlane (Sarah Constible), a woman claiming to be a pregnancy counselor who offers to help Olivia put her baby up for adoption. But even with Pam's help, Olivia's efforts to keep her pregnancy a secret put a lot of weight on her shoulders--and strain on her relationship with her mother. But what Olivia doesn't know is that Pam's intentions aren't as pure as she claims--and that it'll be up to Trish to rescue her daughter from Pam's clutches.
Coming off the heels of the underwhelming Cheer Camp Killer, Cheerleader Abduction was a much-needed breath of fresh air. While its story takes on a similar plot structure to the previous Fear the Cheer installment, writer Jessica Landry crafts it in a way that the pace is consistent enough to keep you watching. With its cold open, Cheerleader Abduction makes no secret of Pam's true nature, adding an extra layer of tension to Olivia falling into her lap. More importantly, though, is how Landry creates a different kind of drama for us to enjoy while we wait for the titular Abduction to happen: Olivia's anguish and the strain her secret puts on her relationship with her family.
Cheerleader Abduction marks Jerni Stewart's first leading role in a Lifetime film, and she displays with flying colors that she's more than capable of handling the spotlight. The movie is quick to throw Olivia into her upsetting situation, with Stewart perfectly capturing the stress it puts her under. As the film progresses, Stewart does an excellent job showing Olivia's transformation from an upbeat cheerleader to a withdrawn and scared girl. Seeing Olivia fall into such a self-destructive mood is sure to earn her your sympathy--and have you grimacing as Pam thoughtlessly exploits her vulnerability. Stewart's strongest moments of acting come into play during the climax, which has Olivia at her absolute lowest point. If your heart wasn't already aching for this poor girl, it will be by then.
(Shout-outs also go out to the people behind Stewart's wardrobe and appearance throughout the film. You really get a sense of Olivia's emotional arc throughout Cheerleader Abduction from her physical appearance)
Stewart is joined by two fellow strong actresses in the form of Kristen Harris and Sarah Constible. While Olivia is going through her aforementioned arc, her mother Trish has her own transformation going on. Throughout the film, we see how time-consuming Trish's campaign for governor is, leaving her disconnected from her family--especially Olivia. There are bound to be moments when you'll get frustrated at Trish for responding to Olivia's downward spiral with shouted demands for the truth before going back to her campaign. But by the third act, Trish has fully realized (much to her heartache) how much she's neglected and ignored her daughter, setting her on a path to danger. Harris throws herself into Trish's third-act revelation before becoming a fierce Mama Bear in time for the big finale.
With the film being more focused on Olivia and her family, Pam doesn't get a lot in terms of screentime. But with what she gets, Sarah Constible does well at making Pam understatedly despicable. Rather than playing her character for over-the-top drama, Constible keeps Pam grounded. While such a method has been disastrous for other Lifetime villains, it works for Pam Fairlane. As we see Pam earn Olivia's trust and goad her into sticking to their original plans, Constible brings palpable apathy to Pam's self-interest. She may not be onscreen as much as other Lifetime villainesses, but Pam still makes an impact with how quietly evil Constible makes her.
The remainder of the cast gets even less time to shine than Constible, but many are still able to make something of an impact. Despite some lackluster moments, Djouliete Amaro makes for a solid "Heroine's BFF" in Olivia's friend Ashley, with some of her character's more emotive moments showing Amaro at her best. Karl Thordarson brings charm to Olivia's father Derek, as does Logan Creran as her brother Aidan--though his surprisingly significant actions in the third act require some suspension of disbelief to buy. The same can be said for the actions of Rachael McLaren's Coach Mona, but to a greater degree. SPOILER ALERT Even taking into account Mona's desire to respect Olivia's decision to leave cheer under the claim of wanting to focus on her grades, it's baffling how Mona doesn't see how troubled her star cheerleader is or go to her parents about her concerning behavior. Spoilers Over
Last of the noteworthy side cast is Paula Potosky as Trish's assistant Simone. In addition to Potosky's serviceable performance, Simone serves as a key piece of Trish's redemption arc. As we see Trish become aware of Olivia's once hidden spiral, we also see her--on a few occasions--be pulled away from her family by Simone's insistence that she focus on her governor campaign. The script and Potosky do well at making Simone something of an unspoken antagonist, with her continued callousness in the final act sparking Trish's cathartic Heel Realization.
Cheerleader Abduction might be a hard sell for some, with its slow boiled pace that saves the big-time action for the third act. But thanks to a spectacular lead in Jerni Stewart and compelling family drama to keep you invested until the climax, there's more than enough to keep you invested in Olivia's story. And for more action-oriented viewers, their patience is rewarded with a well-shot and emotionally intense climax that leads into a satisfying ending. The change of pace might not be everyone's speed, but Cheerleader Abduction handles it well to make for an engaging watch that redeems the Fear the Cheer marathon for Cheer Camp Killer's shortcomings.
Score: 8.5 out of 10 study-cations.