Cooties Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Universal Pictures UK
Directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
Written by Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan
2015, 88 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on 12th October 2015
Elijah Wood as Clint
Rainn Wilson as Wade
Alison Pill as Lucy
Jack McBrayer as Tracy
Leigh Whannell as Doug
Who can kill a child? It's a question your average elementary school teacher doesn't have to often consider, outside of the occasional Samuel L. Jackson revenge movie or gritty British thriller. Pity the poor teachers of Fort Chicken (really) then, caught in the midst of a zombie uprising which affects only the prepubescent. Fast, bitey and vicious, it's like a schoolyard packed full of variations on the little girl zombie which kicked off Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead. Who can kill a child? Better learn fast, if you want to survive.
Substitute teacher Clint (Elijah Wood, adding yet another offbeat horror role to his impressive credentials) is our focal character, picking the very worst day to join the Fort Chicken faculty office. Joining an old crush and a teaching team of misfits and weirdos, it's not long before Clint is forced to buckle down and fight for his life. It's like The Faculty in reverse.
The many imitators of Shaun of the Dead have made the horror comedy hybrid a truly terrifying prospect, with a grim Danny Dyer vehicle or miserable Walking Deceased spoof for every success like Slither or Deathgasm. Thankfully, Cooties is one of the good ones. It's like the post-credits sequence of Stepbrothers stretched out to a full ninety minutes, and is absolutely glorious. Labelling a movie depicting violent child brutality (giving and receiving) as one of the funniest of the year is not what anyone could have expected, and yet here we are.
The kids are far from alright, and that's even before the zombie virus has them tearing nearby adults shreds and eating their guts like spaghetti. Bickering and clueless as they may be, our sympathies are handed to the teachers, facing a daily battle with kids like Patriot (the film's first – but by no means last – belly laugh) and the stupid opinions handed down to him by his parents. The teachers may be the butt of many of the jokes, but the film makes it clear that the profession is no joke. A little room for social commentary, then – but mostly an intense fight for survival and plenty of hilarious arguing among its fantastic cast. Wood heads up the cast well, but the show is stolen at every opportunity by Rainn Wilson's intense PE teacher Wade and the socially awkward sex ed guy Leigh Whannell. Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer (essentially playing the same character he does in everything) and Nasim Pedrad are marginalised by Wilson and Whannell's oddballing, but they add some much-needed background texture. Not so much Jorge Garcia, whose scenes could have been cut from the movie without us ever noticing. A shame, since his Hurley from LOST version of The Simpsons' Otto had the potential to be great.
If anything, Cooties is a little too attached to its characters. Where it should be stepping up its game like the Winchester scenes in Shaun of the Dead, it keeps going, rarely willing to sacrifice a David or an Ed. It also loses some focus in the final fifteen minutes, widening the scope past the schoolyard. Still, it remains hilarious throughout, frequently laugh out loud funny (occasionally rising to 'guffaw' level) and always well-written. A character who should have been a one-dimensional joke achieves genuine pathos in Wade, with Wilson imbuing the comedy idiot with the same level of tragedy and heart he maintained in Super and The Office.
Cooties is a remarkable achievement. Sure, it could have gone further and perhaps been braver with its horror machinations, but as a comedy film predicated on the touchy subject of child brutality, it's already pretty damn ballsy as it is.