Kudos to the lunatics who dreamt up Cooties, because horror movies have been taking it easy on children for too damn long. A few heroic titles have completely disregarded the unwritten genre rule that kiddies are untouchable (Feast/Dead Snow 2: Red Vs. Dead), but most recent horror films just want to play nicely with the studio’s best interests. Thankfully, writers Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan couldn’t care less about horror’s apparent child safety regulation, and neither do directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. Those germ-infested, bratty, whiny little bastards finally get what’s coming to them – a swift kick in the ass and a high-velocity baseball to the cranium. Pro tip: watch Cooties immediately after viewing Goodnight Mommy and your fears will immediately be calmed by sweet, deep-fried vengeance.
Elijah Wood leads a stellar cast of summer school teachers who find themselves locked inside their classrooms after the students start murdering every adult in sight – brutally, I might add. It’s discovered that an infected batch of chicken nuggets made its way to Fort Chicken, harboring a virus that turns children into ravenous, blood-thirsty killing machines. With time running out, the teachers must plot a schoolyard escape before becoming post-nap snacks for their hungry students. It’s all in a day’s work for America’s bravest teachers, who deal with your parenting problems on a daily basis – except this specific problem could kill them.
Cooties has “cult classic” scribbled on every desk, but unfortunately the humor tries a bit too hard, and with some seriously dire results at times. It’s risky to force “dumb” humor on audiences, and this juvenile-hating script steers towards “shock-value” laughs that are either effortlessly expected, or twenty steps too far for absolutely no reason (sometimes).
For example: why harp on a recurring September 11th joke when the first one feels forcibly unnecessary (confirmed when my entire theater looked around with confused faces)? There’s certainly no comedy found in such a national travesty, yet Cooties attempts to “joke” about the topic. Same goes for Jack McBryer’s constant gay-baiting, which isn’t even a shocker at this point in cinematic history. His whole facade of straightness is goofily hinted at time and time again, like it’s some daring taboo that the writers are heroes for mentioning. Cooties is a gory riot in its prime, but there are some serious comedic misfires here, and the established tone takes a hit with each humorous stumble.
So now that I’ve aired my grievances, let’s talk about why Cooties is a zombie-child-bashing blast.
Many films shy away from putting young characters in danger, but Cooties finds a loophole by turning America’s future leaders into torso-tearing demons with a vicious bloodlust. Because the children are evil, we’re perfectly fine with Rainn Wilson’s face-bashing baseball cannon, Elijah Wood’s reckless driving, and the numerous busted corpses oozing a murky goop out of detached appendages. Please understand that Cooties is gory – I mean jaws ripped open, decapitations, children-jumping-rope-with-intestines gory – and most of the brutality is enacted against those evil, corroding booger-eaters. But the gore is inventive, and the deaths play into schoolyard gimmicks like detached-head-tetherball for maximum laughs. If you hate kids, you’re going to LOVE Cooties.
While the teaching staff of this stifling middle-America town is comprised of every stereotype imaginable, they’re not without frenzied performances from most involved. Leigh Whannell’s socially awkward outcast is the one outrageous caricature who stays consistently funny, while others like Nasim Pedrad’s gun-loving Republican and Jack McBrayer’s not-so-closeted-but-totally-might-be-straight pretty boy suffer from a case of humorous word-vomit as described above. There’s also a forced love triangle, schmaltzy heroics, and other problems caused by characters that lack any sort of personal depth, but the likes of Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson, and those mentioned above all form a cast of survivors who fight the odds with enough intensity to let directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion flourish as visual death-dealers.
Cooties earns a passing grade by being a splatterific good time that’ll have the whole sandbox abuzz with laughter, despite a mixed-bag of jokes being thrown around with little restraint. But you’re here for the adult-on-child zombie bashing, and that’s EXACTLY what Milott and Murnion deliver – a hilarious frenzy of bloody kickballs and horrified teachers. Whannell and Ian Brennan’s script is a candy-coated treat with a hollow core, but the saccharine sweetness of Cooties‘ brutally relentless kiddie-carnage is tantalizing enough to overpower an airy core comprised of weightless characters and typical genre tropes. You’re in for a bloody-ridiculous good time – if you can make it past the film’s grotesque opening chicken nugget factory montage, that is.
Cooties is an infectious zombie treat, making up for all the horror movies that refused to give kids what they had coming.