Directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. Produced by Tove Christensen, Georgy Malkov, Daniel Noah, Steven Schneider, Josh C. Waller, and Elijah Wood. Written by Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan. Release date: September 18, 2015.
It might seem a little strange that it’s taken until 2015 for us to finally have a movie about cooties – the fictional childhood illness that you “get” from members of the opposite sex – but there you have it. Now we do have one, appropriately titled “Cooties,” although it has decided to take schoolyard sickness, make it a reality, and turn its victims into savage cannibals. Oh, and keeping with the spirit of its real-life “inspiration,” the only people who are affected by it are those who haven’t gone through puberty. What we have on our hands, folks, is a killer children movie – and maybe a zombie movie, if you want to call its antagonists “zombies.” See, it’s scary because kids are already creepy and evil, and now they’re also cannibals. There are worse horror movie premises.
The film begins with a montage in which we see a chicken nugget being created – probably the grossest part of the movie; just try eating your McNugget while watching Cooties – but with one crucial difference: it’s infected with some black goop. A child eats it, and soon after she bites another one in the face. He spreads the virus to a whole host of other children, and soon enough the entire school is infected. Our protagonists are a bunch of teachers, each of whom is cartoonishly depicted. The “lead” is a writer, Clint (Elijah Wood), who is at the school only because he’s acting as a substitute for someone else.
You may or may not care about the other teachers, in large part because they’re all one-note stereotypes. Lucy (Alison Pill) is the “nice one,” who conveniently happens to know Clint from when they went to school together; Wade (Rainn Wilson) is the jock gym teacher and Lucy’s boyfriend; Tracy (Jack McBrayer) may or may not be homosexual – yes, that’s his one character trait; Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad) is paranoid; and Doug (Leigh Whannell, also a co-writer) is a creepy sex education teacher. They have to figure out how to survive the attack by their students, and maybe try to make it to safety, too.
Cooties is a horror-comedy, which you may have guessed just by looking at its title and realizing that the filmmakers made a movie about cooties. It starts off quite funny, actually; for its first 20 minutes or so, it looks like it’s going to be a smart satire of both outbreak movies and killer children movies. It isn’t taking itself particularly seriously, and it has several witty lines. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stay like this throughout. By the time limbs are flying, it gets too serious, too stock, and even the gleeful murder of children who were obnoxious before and bloodthirsty now can’t save the film from being anything more than a passable distraction.
Cooties just wants to be funny, be gory, and maybe offend those who think that children are untouchables in entertainment.
When the movie tries to build to its finale, which involves some of the bloodiest, over-the-top violence you’re going to see this year, it begins to get boring. It’s more enjoyable when it’s pointing out and making fun of some of the tropes of the genre than when it’s actively imbibing in them. It never gets flat-out boring, but it does feel frustrating that it had so much potential that gets wasted in favor of a more generic conclusion – right up to its non-ending of a final scene, which comes across like the filmmakers ran out of money and had to come up with an impromptu way to end the movie.
As our lead, Elijah Wood gets some of the best moments. He gives his character a dry sense of humor, and the baggage that he brings with him – both as a former child actor and with some of his older roles – help some of the jokes. Alison Pill gets the second most laughs, particularly when she finds herself having enough with the situation midway through. Rainn Wilson is more annoying than funny, while Jack McBrayer, Nasim Pedrad, and Leigh Whannell don’t have enough in terms of character to make an impression. They each get a few good lines, but I wish you luck in remembering them even ten minutes after Cooties ends.
Outside of a brief interlude in which the characters discuss how underappreciated teachers are in the modern era, Cooties is all about teachers either running from or murdering children, all done to make us laugh. This isn’t a deep movie by any stretch, nor does it want to be. Cooties just wants to be funny, be gory, and maybe offend those who think that children are untouchables in entertainment. It works when it comes to these things, at least for a while. I found it less funny as it progressed, perhaps because I grew tired of the one-note characters, but it does have some good lines. It’s a mixed bag, one that had more potential than was realized.
Bottom Line: Cooties starts to lose momentum after its first 20 minutes, but it still has enough laughs scattered throughout that it’ll serve as a passable distraction – or a cult movie.
Recommendation: Don’t eat chicken nuggets. Ever. Just don’t do it. But especially don’t eat them during Cooties.[rating=2]