For many, children can seem like loud, disease-infested monsters, and it’s not difficult to see why. There’s usually something leaking out their noses, their meals are often encrusted around their mouths, and they care little for social decorum or personal space. As such, it’s not too surprising that a horror-comedy like Cooties would come along in 2014 to take this waggish status to a more terrifying level, altering children into nimble monstrosities hungry for human flesh. Unfortunately, however, in spite of how much potential a concept like this holds, Cooties ultimately squanders many of its favourable qualities, never fully committing to its absurd premise and the horror/humour it holds.
Plot Summary: When a mysterious virus originating from contaminated chicken nuggets hits an isolated elementary school, transforming the children within into a feral swarm of flesh-eating monsters. A group of misfit teachers are forced to band together as they attempt to flee the bloody, juvenile carnage…
Directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion (Bushwick, Becky), Cooties undoubtedly harbours a remarkable premise, and the screenplay effectively sets itself up as a hybrid of both comedy and horror in its first act, balancing conversational witticisms and light moments of characterisation, with violent sequences of teachers and parents being torn apart by the infected children. However, the screenplay quickly turns sour once the second act arrives, as a number of plot conveniences/inconsistencies arise to make the perilous situation of the central group of characters survivable. Moreover, as the virus spreads and the teachers become trapped inside the school, the story begins to feel rather generic as the screenplay moves between uninteresting plot points from the chintzy jokes that preceded them.
While the characters featured throughout Cooties aren’t what I’d describe as particularly memorable or unique, they are, at least, well-defined and have their respective witty moments. A fair portion of this character appeal could also be attributed to the cast, however, as Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson, Leigh Whannel, Jack McBrayer and Jorge Garcia all deliver excellent performances as self-centred educators who are evidently displeased with how their lives have turned out. For example, Clint (the protagonist), who formerly moved to New York City in an attempt to become a novelist, reluctantly finds himself back in his hometown of Fort Chicken, Illinois, as a substitute teacher. The only positive outcome of his return home is his reconciliation with his childhood crush, Lucy, who now works at the same school. But, any chance of sparking a connection with her is swiftly stomped out by P.E. teacher, Wade, her loathsome boyfriend. Presumably, leaving many audience members grateful they don’t lead a life as a downtrodden, small-town elementary school teacher.
Aside from the truly nauseating opening title sequence at a chicken farm, which is sure to turn many audience members into vegetarians. Thanks in part to its use of vile close-ups, sludgy green colour palette and singular chicken nugget stuffed with an ominous black gloop. The rest of Lyle Vincent’s cinematography is relativity drab, relying on monotonous mid-shots to depict the puerile chaos. Outside of a handful of moments where close-ups are effectively employed to display the fantastic practical effects, that is, including a darkly comedic sequence in which the infected children pull the hapless school principal apart, using his intestines as a skipping rope, soon after.
Cooties‘ original score, composed by Kreng (a.k.a. Pepijn Caudron), is an interesting musical composition, a quirky mix of electronic horror and childlike innocence, much like the film itself. And whilst the score is occasionally too synth-heavy, which can seem a little odd given the film’s lack of 1980s influences. Cooties‘ soundtrack does make space for haunting vocals and violins where it can, blending comforting and madcap cues to create splendid tracks like Opening Titles and Rick’s Tape.
As previously mentioned, Cooties does appear fairly derivative following its first act, relying on no end of familiar tropes for the zombie subgenre. In addition to caving into an array of plot convinces, such as the sex-ed teacher, Doug, possessing a significant amount of knowledge on viruses and the human brain alike, so he can explain to the others that adults cannot be infected. Still, that isn’t where the writing-related issues cease, as towards the end of the third act (spoilers ahead in this section for those who wish to go in blind), the story becomes virtually aimless, providing no resolution as the characters scurry through the barren, nearby town of Danville until the credits roll. Of course, there is always the possibility that this sudden discontinuation was a result of the film’s limited budget, but it’s a less-than-satisfying way of concluding the narrative, nonetheless.
In summary, Cooties‘ screenplay is largely what drags the rest of the project down, appearing almost confined in its storytelling as if the screenwriters couldn’t reach beyond the typical traits of a zombie flick. Once the teachers hunker down inside a classroom, the story grinds to a tedious halt, merely observing the characters as they crawl through air ducts and suit up with school equipment to escape, scenes you’ve seen a thousand times before in other zombie-centric stories. Yet, what’s most disappointing, is that Cooties wastes such an inspired idea, as teachers surviving against a horde of infected children is an imaginative and amusing concept that could’ve easily made for an enjoyable, low-budget horror-comedy if it was executed skillfully. Rating: 4/10.