Synopsis – A mysterious virus hits an isolated elementary school, transforming the kids into a feral swarm of mass savages. An unlikely hero must lead a motley band of teachers in the fight of their lives.
My Take – In recent times, their have been a lot of zombie comedies otherwise known as zom com or zomedies. Out of the bunch of ludicrous efforts its films like Edgar Wright‘s Shaun of the Dead, Dead Snow (both the films) & Zombie Land which stand out as the best ones. The good news is this film may find itself entering the top 10 list collecting together the sub-genre’s best. You gotta admit, we’ve reached a point in the horror genre, specifically in the realm of zombie cinema, where the only way to inject fresh air into the proceedings is by tweaking established concepts and bringing something slightly new to the table. This film excels in that department right off the bat, as the attention-grabbing set-up promises something we haven’t quite seen before: an entire movie about undead children. Of course, zombie kids have been terrorizing the screen ever since Night of the Living Dead created the sub-genre as we know it today, but here only the children are susceptible to the virus. A clever spin on the schoolyard legend the film derives its title from, the mythology established here is that immunity comes along with puberty, and the whole thing is different enough to feel fresh. Best of all, the film pulls absolutely no brakes when it comes to the execution of the concept, so admirably going full throttle with the idea that it’s almost hard to believe the parents of the young actors even allowed their children to star in it. There’s nothing PG about this one, as it never shies away from both doing terrible things to kids and making them do terrible things to adults – and it’s armed with an appropriately cynical outlook on today’s youth. Movies that prominently feature children are seldom as gloriously over the top in the gore department and make no mistake: though it’s a movie about kids, it’s certainly not a movie made for kids to watch. There’s one point early on where all hell literally breaks loose in the schoolyard, with pre-teens passing around torn off limbs, jump roping with intestines and playing with severed heads – it’s quite a sight. Once things slow down, there are considerable stretches of downtime here, but the good news is that the characters are so much fun to watch – whether they’re dealing with the per-pubescent monsters or simply interacting with one another. The story follows Clint (Elijah Wood) who has returned in defeat to his small hometown of Chicken Fort after an unsuccessful career as a writer in New York City.
He starts his first day as a substitute teacher at the local elementary school that he once attended as a pupil. Clint quickly encounters his old classmate and crush Lucy (Alison Pill), now a teacher here as well, and her P.E.-teaching jock boyfriend Wade (Rainn Wilson), along with the rest of the neurotic, eccentric staff and in just about a moment, chaos breaks lose in the school yard as Shelly, infected with a virus from the school cafeteria’s chicken nuggets, begins to attack others, spreading the virus to whoever she attacks. Clint and Lucy watch through the teachers- lounge window in horror as the vice now acting principal is eaten alive. The faculty are now trapped in the school and must come up with a plan as the chicken nugget virus spreads throughout the town. Like I mentioned before more subtly, this is a completely ridiculous horror-comedy. It’s not the funniest film you’ll ever see, nor is it the scariest or most exciting, but if you take it for what it is, effectively a B-rated movie, you can enjoy yourself here. The writing by Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious) & Ian Brennan (Glee), from a story they crafted with Josh C. Waller, has the snap and drollery of good TV comedy. This is as opposed to film comedy – even though viewers know they’re settling in for a 88-minute running time rather than the beginning of something that could play out over years, the start of this film feels like we’re meant to settle in with these characters. We could easily see them, their interpersonal issues and their struggles with some of the kids (little horrors even before they become actual monsters) keeping on for many seasons. Directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion use embedded fears of improper food practices to gross us out and while the violence certainly done out of fun, it likely won’t sit well with parents or those actually working in the school systems. Screenwriters can’t resist poking fun of Wood’s height, as Wilson’s redneck character accuses him of sneaking around like a hobbit in one scene (although we see the joke coming a mile away). This isn’t Pill’s first time playing a teacher, you might remember her brandishing a gun in a small scene from Snowpiercer last year, here she is that annoyingly positive person we all hate. The action here is also relatively entertaining. Even though, the whole cooties zombie thing isn’t that funny after a while, once the film descends into a stereotypical zombie movie, but some of the fight sequences and the portrayal of the infected kids is quite cool, making for some degree of excitement in the story. Then there’s the gore. So much gore.
And sometimes it doesn’t even feel necessary. The opening scene shows a man snap a chicken’s neck, then shows the chicken’s dismembered head and a scene where maggots crawl over a chicken carcass. Then when the kids rip into the adults, a kid plays with entrails like a jumping rope, a dismembered head is used like a barbie doll. Not sure what the point of it all was. And the thing is is that it really doesn’t help the story much all that gore. It’s like, let’s do it because we can. Let’s give the audience something to remember. It’s the ensemble cast of this film that really makes the whole thing work. As a struggling writer who can’t seem to get his career of the ground, Elijah Wood is his usually likable self, and Rainn Wilson delivers consistent laughs as a brash gym teacher with a particular fondness for actor Jason Patric. The cast also includes Jack McBrayer, Alison Pill, and Jorge Garcia, and they’re all fantastic in their well-written roles. In addition to writing, Whannell co-stars in the film as a socially awkward sex-ed teacher, and his brilliant comedic timing makes for some of the funniest moments and most memorable lines. In many ways, the film feels like a showcase of Whannell’s multitude of talents more than anything else, firmly establishing that he can write comedy as well as horror and deliver lines as well as he can write them. On the whole, ‘Cooties‘ is hugely bizarre entertaining film, sure it has its problems, but for fans of the genre, it’s mostly good bloody fun. Running a brisk 90 minutes long, Cooties quickly gets in and out without ever spreading its set of charms too thin, and it hits all the right notes in both the humor and gore departments. It delivers pretty much everything you could wish for from a horror-comedy, and also has as much fun with the zombie kid concept as you could possibly ask it to. In short, it’s one of the funniest horror movies this year.
Rated – R
Run Time – 88 minutes