Circle, circle, dot dot – now you got the cootie shot! Horror and comedy films are undeniably from completely different worlds, however when handled with care they can complement each other rather well – with ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Zombieland’ making huge success within the zombie sub-genre. This film in particular has a premise that is so outrageous it has to be seen to be believed, causing various body reactions and emotions from the viewer such as utter disgust at the obscene gore factor, eye-rolling or chuckling at the cheesy one-liners and sometimes an occasional yawn when the plot can go off track and lack bite.
Cooties, the directorial debut of Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, has one of the most disgusting and nauseating opening sequences to a film I’ve ever seen as the extremely graphic procedure of how a particularly sick looking chicken is plucked from a slaughterhouse, processed into mush and ultimately a chicken nugget, then for an unsuspecting little girl to bite into it. Be warned, you will most probably be looking away from the screen heaving, however it’s a title that definitely sets up the film to a strong start and explains the plague origin quickly.
With what seems to be Elijah Wood continuing a streak of horror films, he stars in Cooties as Clint, a pretentious would-be novelist who returns home to Fort Chicken (I know, right?) from New York City to take on a much more terrifying role – a substitute teacher at his old school. With the earlier scenes showing the teacher versus student dynamic and adults having feelings of dread towards young people, the threat becomes much more real as the film progresses. The impressive cast and school staff-room of unlikely heroes teaching for the summer also include the incredibly comical alpha male P.E teacher Doug (Rainn Wilson), his positively sweet girlfriend and Clint’s old friend Lucy (Allison Pill) and nerdy, zany science teacher Doug (Leigh Whannell, also co-writer). Clint’s first day back in the daunting world of education rapidly goes from embarrassing to wild when aforementioned chicken nugget eating girl shockingly retaliates and bites her bullying classmate, triggering a descent into madness as the pandemic turns her pint sized friends into ruthless, bloodthirsty, flesh-eating maniacs.
I think in the world of the horror genre today, especially in a zombie film, it is vital to inject something fresh into it and to bring something new to the table. Cooties succeeds in that department right away as the opening set up promises an entire movie about menacing and infected children. Of course, re-animated kids have been shuffling around and frightening audiences on the big screen ever since George A. Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’, however Cooties is taken place in a world where only children are susceptible to the outbreak, in a clever and amusing spin on the imaginary playground legend.
The initial idea of setting a zombie film in a elementary school is incredibly ballsy, as it inevitably means that at some point you are going to be shown a bunch of kids being killed, or violently killing others, however the material never really comes across as tasteless, as the film has a outrageous sense of humour filled with slapstick gore that adds relief. The child zombies are delightfully horrific, delivering ghoulish grins and guttural snarls as they are shown in montages of mayhem playing with intestines for jump rope and decapitated heads for ball games, which can be surprisingly downright hilarious in some scenes.
The film runs at a brisk and easy 90 minutes long and although it mostly hits all the right notes in the humour and gore departments, the same tired plot of characters trying to make an escape from near death has been played so much, it runs a little thin at times, especially during the middle act. The film is packed with characters that mostly lack any personality development or motivation other than ‘survive’ and it’s only when the final act plays out that things with the other characters start to get interesting. Combined with a regrettable chunk of time spent wallowing in a tedious love triangle between Wood, Wilson and Pill, you may be left feeling frustrated at the tone switching from over the top madness to hurried heartfelt speeches at cut throat speed.
If you’re looking for a consistent and serious display full of drama and scenes that provoke scares then this definitely won’t be The Walking Dead you’re looking for, however for a comedy horror it delivers basically everything you could wish for. It may not rank up there with the great films of the zombie sub-genre, but it’s a macabre and fun spin that more than works if you’re after a silly flick to watch with a few friends.