Devery Jacobs flips, falls, and gets yelled at by Evan Rachel Wood in the trailer for cheerleading drama “Backspot”

The intense sports drama opens in theaters on May 31.

Bring It On is likely the first that comes to mind when thinking about cheerleading movies. And for good reason: It's a perfect movie. But that franchise — with its many sequels and spin-offs — and most others of the genre focus on the fun, flirty side of the sport, if it's even treated as a sport in the first place.

In D.W. Waterson's new film, Backspot, Reservation Dogs breakout Devery Jacobs, who also serves as a producer on the film, stars as Riley, an ambitious cheerleader who gets pushed to her limits by a sadistic coach (Evan Rachel Wood) after she and her girlfriend (Kudakwashe Rutendo) make an all-star cheer squad.

<p>XYZ Films</p> Devery Jacobs in 'Backspot'

XYZ Films

Devery Jacobs in 'Backspot'

Executive produced by Elliot Page and written by Joanne Sarazen, with a story by Waterson, Backspot takes its title from the cheerleader position that spots the back of the stunt. Entertainment Weekly has the exclusive trailer for the film (below), which looks at the physical, mental, and emotional pain that cheerleaders put themselves through, even as the general public sees them only as side dishes and never the main course.

Jacobs and Waterson first came up with the idea for Backspot in 2017 — inspired by a viral video of cheerleaders being forced to do splits — and worked for years to get it to the big screen. "I really believe that I’d never be cast in a role like this if I hadn’t created it for myself with D.W.," Jacobs tells Entertainment Weekly.

Jacobs, a former regional champion gymnast, did nearly all of her own stunts for the film, save for one fall. She says the training for Backspot was "the most intensive prep" she's ever done for a film.

"For months leading up to the shooting, I trained in open gymnastics, learned how to backspot and cheerlead, did personal training, physiotherapy, yoga, and stretched every day to get my splits back," Jacobs reveals. "Because it was actually me doing all my own stunts, I knew we couldn’t afford to get injured, so I wanted to make sure I took the best care of myself and was ready to take on the physical challenge of playing Riley."

For Waterson, Backspot represents a chance to "explore the concept of pressure that is placed upon young people," especially in sports.

"Whether that’s exterior pressure to perform, or self-inflicted, internalized pressure," they tell EW. "We all love Bring It On, it’s a cult classic — but what it doesn’t show is the unbelievable athleticism that cheerleaders have, and the physical risk that is put on the line every practice. Cheerleading has one of the highest concussion rates of all sports, right after football."

Pushing these athletes to jump higher and split wider is Evan Rachel Wood as steely coach Eileen McNamara. Wood was always Jacobs and Waterson's No. 1 choice to play the film's antagonist, though they never thought they would actually get the Westworld star.

"She’s so incredibly sweet in real life," Jacobs says of Wood, "but as soon as cameras started rolling, we watched her transform into this cold and intimidating character. Watching Evan is watching a master at her craft, and getting to work off of her made things so easy."

It couldn't have been that easy, what with all the tossing and tumbling, but it was certainly worth it for Jacobs. She recalls seeing the 2006 gymnastics comedy Stick It with her whole gymnastics club and "how exciting it was to finally have a movie that showcased my sport." She can't wait for cheerleaders to feel that way with Backspot.

"Ultimately, the most rewarding part about creating and starring in Backspot has been witnessing cheerleaders see the film," Jacobs says. "So often this sport is underestimated and not taken seriously. But to hear the feedback from these incredible competitors describing how much they see their lives and athleticism reflected in the film — it means so much."

Waterson, meanwhile, sees Backspot as "the next step forward in cheer films," adding — pun not intended — that they're "definitely standing on the shoulders" of iconic movies like Bring It On and But I'm a Cheerleader. But their film turns up the volume and elevates the subgenre from "fun, campy, pom-pom-donning cheerleaders" into a "kick-ass drama."

And Backspot is groundbreaking in its own way, with Waterson noting, up till now, "There hasn’t been a queer, female, and non-binary take on competitive cheerleading that also explores the nuance of being a young person who has a ton of energy with nowhere to put it."

Backspot handsprings into theaters nationwide on May 31.

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