A driven cheerleader (Devery Jacobs) struggles to handle the pressure when she and her girlfriend are both selected for an elite cheer squad, in D.W. Waterson’s feature directorial debut.
There are a lot of movies about cheerleaders, but Backspot is out to do something different. It goes behind the phony smiles of its young athletes to explore the ambition and drive that defines them.
Sure, Toronto DJ and filmmaker D.W. Waterson (TIFF Filmmaker Lab ’22) still brings an irrepressible energy to the obligatory scenes of young women pushing themselves to perform dizzying feats of agility and strength. But Waterson and screenwriter Joanne Sarazen (TIFF Micki Moore Resident ’19) know their characters are still just kids, dealing with the same insecurities and challenges as everyone else. They might launch themselves into the air like superheroes, but one wrong move will bring them crashing to the ground.
Riley (Devery Jacobs, who also produced) can’t afford to make that wrong move. The ferocious competitor and furious perfectionist finds herself under pressure when she and her girlfriend Amanda (Kudakwashe Rutendo, TIFF Rising Star ’23) are both selected for an elite cheer squad. As the diamond-hard coach (Evan Rachel Wood) and her assistant (Thomas Antony Olajide, TIFF Rising Star ’21) put them through their paces, Riley’s anxiety escalates, and a compulsive behaviour intensifies. Something’s going to break… but whether it’s physical or emotional is anybody’s guess.
A decade after her revelatory turn in Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls (TIFF ’13), Jacobs has grown into a performer who holds the screen like no one else. She understands that acknowledging one’s vulnerability is a formidable strength, and Backspot is about watching Riley figure that out as well.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: mature themes, sexual content, coarse language, depictions of compulsive behaviour