| November 30, 2015

I saw an advertisement at the Alamo Drafthouse in which Elijah Wood told the audience to keep quiet during the movie.  Behind Wood was a poster for Cooties, which featured him, a blonde who looked like Kristen Bell (turned out to be Allison Pill; The Newsroom) and a group of other adults fighting for their lives against a hoard of zombie kids.  The idea of a zombie movie set in an elementary school was very intriguing to me, but it never came to local theaters.  When I finally saw a trailer for the film, I didn’t regret missing it as much because the trailer didn’t look very good.  It mostly featured Rainn Wilson (Super) pretending to be a badass, and none of the moments highlighted in the trailer struck me as particularly funny or interesting.  I was still curious enough to snatch up the review request, but my expectations had tapered off.

Actually, the film turned out to be really fun.  The comedy is great, the characters are great, and the film plays with the horror comedy genre in a lot of interesting ways.  The story follows Clint (Elijah Wood; Wilfred), an aspiring novelist who’s moved home to the small town of his childhood to live with his mother and finish his first novel: a Stephen King rip-off about a man who buys an evil boat.  In order to make money, Clint takes a job as a substitute teacher at the local elementary school, where his high school crush Lucy (Allison Pill) happens to teach along with her boyfriend, Wade (Rainn Wilson).  Clint jumps at any chance to talk about his book, and flirt with Lucy, until a defective chicken nugget infects one of the students with a virus that turns her into a flesh-eating zombie.  She soon begins infecting her fellow students so they can pack hunt the teachers for meat.

I found the entire film to be really funny, with a lot of laugh out loud hysterical moments.  The trailer doesn’t give Rainn Wilson’s character justice because he is incredibly funny here, furthering my belief that while I hate The Office, I love the cast of The Office.  Probably my favorite character is Doug (Leigh Whannell; Saw), who is the school’s science teacher, and seems to have a severe case of Aspberger’s Syndrome. He has so many great and hilarious moments throughout the film, but manages to not pull focus from the main characters.

Elijah Wood plays an interesting character as Clint, but I reject the notion that he’s our hero.  His pathetic pining after Lucy, his insistence on telling anyone who will listen about his novel, and his attempts to bond with his students by being the “cool” English teacher all make me want to kick his ass.  In fact, me and my girlfriend kept joking that we like the head zombie kid, Patriot (Cooper Roth) better as the hero of the film, and kept rooting for him to take Clint down because he never does anything to further the plot, let alone be a hero.  Wood plays the dufus to perfection, and there’s nothing wrong with the performance;  it’s actually really funny just how useless he is.

I really enjoy horror comedy, because it’s an inherently dark genre, and I love dark comedy.  So, making a movie about a zombie plague that only affects children is right up my alley, and Cooties makes some interesting choices with the genre.  First, having the zombie virus only affect kids creates a great juxtaposition between the innocence of a child and the monstrosity of a zombie is really effective.  Also, the zombies aren’t mindless predators looking for meat.  They have reason and basic intelligence to try to outthink their prey.  They’re malevolent and actually consciously evil, which doesn’t tend to happen in zombie movies.

The metaphors surrounding the horrors of being an elementary school teacher are a bit heavy handed.  One character might make a comment about how being a teacher is the hardest job in the world and dominates all of your free time despite having the summer months off.  Another might comment on the low wages and absent appreciation teachers get stuck with.  And of course turning the children into literal blood-thirsty monsters is a bit on the nose, but overall the film is a lot of fun and well worth your time.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate on December 1.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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