cooties_3Year: 2015
Director:  Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Writer(s): Leigh Whannell, Ian Brennan
Region of Origin: US
Rating: R
Color, 88 mins

Synopsis: A virus hits an isolated elementary school, transforming kids into a feral swarm of savages. An unlikely hero must lead a motley band of teachers in the fight of their lives. (Source)

Kids are the future they say – but that couldn’t be farther from the truth in the wickedly irreverent Cooties. Born from the warped minds of Saw’s Leigh Whannell and Glee’s Ian Brennan, their latest project is an absurd twist on the zombie genre, one in which kids could possibly mean the end of the world. If Dawn of the Dead were about a crew of misfit teachers trying to survive a grade school zombie apocalypse, you’d get this film, a witty addition to the genre that’s as funny and brutal as can be. It never shies away from any opportunity to milk its twisted premise, yet always does so in inventive ways. Anchored by a literally killer ensemble cast, the film is a crowd pleaser from start to finish, sure to amuse veteran gorehounds and casual horror fans alike.

The story begins with a budding writer named Clint (Elijah Wood), who’s moved back into his childhood home and picked up a summer gig as a substitute teacher. On his first day on the job, he reconnects to a old friend and a colorful mix of characters who comprise the teaching staff at a small elementary school. Unbeknownst to anyone, their day is about to get a whole lot rougher, thanks to an infected chicken finger which turns one unsuspecting little girl into a feral host bent on spreading her vicious disease to everyone on the playground. As the school’s kids turn homicidal and the blood begins to flow, the unsuspecting band of teachers are forced into an uneasy alliance, doing anything in their will to figure out what’s happening and just maybe, survive the night.

Most surprising about he film is the way it balances a slew of disparate tones, playing with genre conventions but never becoming a slave to them. The more “zombie” films we get, the more they feel the same, and yet this one escapes the genre’s trappings by focusing on its colorful characters and finding ways to continually push them into situations that are simultaneously funny, unpredictable and shockingly gory. Fitting everything in from an icky autopsy to a “suiting up” montage, the film stays light on its feet but plays everything refreshingly straight, never winking but finding genuine comedy from the absurdity of what’s on screen. From the gruesome kills (there are tons of memorable ones), to the relentless pace, there’s never a dull moment or much that’s wasted about the film in general.

cooties_2If there’s a reason to watch the film besides the blood and guts, it’s the cast, who each carve their own niche amongst the film’s misadventures, each getting their own chance to shine. Elijah Wood’s meek but well-meaning Clint headlines the cast as the unsuspecting hero who has to rise to the cause. For Wood, the film marks yet another diverse turn, playing a grounded everyman stuck in an extraordinary situation. Rainn Wilson’s Wade is more or less is the darkest timeline version of what we’ve come to expect from him: half jerk, half vulnerable misanthrope, he has his place. Jack McBrayer, Alison Pill and Nasim Pedrad round things out, used sparingly but always when they’re needed most. If there’s someone who rises above and steals every moment he’s in however, it’s writer Leigh Whannell who joins in on the fun as the socially inept Doug. As someone who just blurts out his raw, unedited thoughts, everything that comes out of his character’s mouth is gold, delivered with perfect deadpan timing – he gets a lot of the film’s real zingers, driving everything over the edge when you least expect. Together, this diverse set of performers and characters are irresistible to watch.

Cooties is one of those films that you’re surprised didn’t happen sooner, a throwback to the 80s horror films of yesteryear which were all based around the silliest kinds of pop culture references. But hey – it works out great here, thanks to the inventiveness and strong vision of directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. The film smartly plays things a bit broad without sacrificing its niche appeal, and because of that, it’s bound to connect to a wide audience looking for nothing more that a perfect blast of escapism with just the right amount of story and character. In a world where zombie films and shows are ubiquitous, this film is the cure to genre complacency. Better than pastiche, and with smarter humor than most comedies, you’ll laugh, you’ll cringe and at the end, you won’t regret any of it.

SG