Editor’s Notes: Cooties is currently out in limited release and is also available on several demand platforms.
If there’s one singular purpose that horror-comedies are built for, it’s satire. Scream, The Cabin in the Woods, Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, they all put their satirical spins on the horror genre (among other things) before their respective scares. Much of the humor in horror-comedies can derive from juxtaposing something miniscule over something gargantuan. Many plain comedies use this strategy, but it flourishes in horror-comedies, because comedy is a light genre, and horror is generally a gritty genre. Juxtaposition is in place from the get-go. Shaun of the Dead in particular flaunts this, juxtaposing a man-child and his strained relationship over the zombie apocalypse. Cooties achieves the same feat, and though it’s certainly not an Edgar Wright-challenging masterwork, it’s still lots of fun.
Elijah Wood is an endearing lead, going through an underdog arc that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Clint (Elijah Wood) plays an aspiring writer who decides to stay at his mother’s house as a means for finishing a book he’s been writing. In order to find something to do, he takes a position as a substitute teacher at the school he spent his childhood years attending, Fort Chicken Elementary. On his first day, he runs into several fellow teachers in and out of the teacher’s lounge, including the P.E. teacher Wade (Rainn Wilson), each with their own distinct quirks. Among them is Lucy (Alison Pill), who’s both an old classmate of his and Wade’s girlfriend. As Clint and Lucy engage in amusing conversation, Wade’s jealousy begins to grow. In the meantime, the local chicken nugget factory is manufacturing, well, chicken nuggets, and somehow, a virus weasels its way into a batch. This batch finds itself in the cafeteria at Fort Chicken Elementary, where an infected nugget is promptly ingested. Shortly thereafter, the kids begin to act like savages, and not due to excessive sugar intake, but because rather obviously, they’ve become zombies. At the sight of this, Clint and his fellow teachers band together to survive the worst day of school they’ve ever had the displeasure of attending.
The standout is definitely Leigh Whannell, playing an incredibly funny, totally oblivious, but strangely brilliant lunatic of a teacher, whose lines are practically 100% gold.
The satirical elements here are fairly obvious. Kids becoming rowdy enough to crave flesh, teachers finally taking their petty frustrations out on the newly-undead swarms. It’s a what-if concept that could easily be an excuse for a “teachers hate kids” revenge fantasy, but instead plays its cards right, not reveling in the child-zombie slaughter until that humorous perspective is what these characters need to survive. Hell, the first time an actual kill occurs, everybody sits down and processes it for a good ten minutes amidst dialogue. And whether there’s killing occurring or not, the visuals are actually pretty impressive, as the school itself is a practical set, and remains so even when torn apart by zombie children. Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan, both writers of their own passion projects, co-wrote the script, and have made something delightfully fun but intelligently put together. While it may be obvious what they’re trying to do, that very thing is the kind of clever that will no doubt appeal to those who value creativity.
But if the talent of your cast doesn’t match, you can only go so far with just a premise, and the cast of Cooties brings it. Elijah Wood is an endearing lead, going through an underdog arc that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Alison Pill is great in whatever she’s in, and while her type of character would normally be restricted to simply a love interest, she exhibits as much personality as the rest of the group does. Rainn Wilson brings his trademark brassiness to a role that is built around it, yet allows him to leave it behind while his character evolves (in a predictable yet lovable way). But the standout is definitely Leigh Whannell, playing an incredibly funny, totally oblivious, but strangely brilliant lunatic of a teacher, whose lines are practically 100% gold. Watching this ensemble interact is crazily entertaining, and almost worthy of its own TV series.
But it’s not a TV series, it’s a film, and it’s Cooties, an unabashedly fun-loving good time
Watching this ensemble interact is crazily entertaining, and almost worthy of its own TV series. But it’s not a TV series, it’s a film, and it’s Cooties, an unabashedly fun-loving good time.