Editor’s note: Our review of Cooties originally ran during Sundance 2014, but we’re re-posting it now as the film plays this year’s Stanley Film Fest. The film itself has changed some from the version reviewed here, but aside from preferring the new ending our sentiments remain the same.
Kids. You can’t live with them, and you can’t bash their head in with a fire extinguisher. But what this movie presupposes is… maybe you can. In fact, sometimes you have to if you want to live.
Clint (Elijah Wood) is starting his first day as a substitute teacher, but in his mind it’s only a temporary way station on the way to the bestseller lists. Sure he’s living back at home and drives a beaten up Prius with “Eat my cock” scrawled into the dusty grime, but if he can just nail his horror novel’s opening line (“The boat was evil…”) he’ll be on his way. But when an outbreak infects the kids and turns them into little carnivorous bastards, Clint and a gaggle of other teachers are forced into the second biggest fight of their lives (after trying to survive on teacher salary and lack of respect).
Cooties is horror comedy done right. It’s laugh out loud funny but never shies away from the gory, violent bits involving adults and children. See it with a child you love.
“Oh look, carnage.”
It starts with an opening credit montage (complete with a peppy score) exploring how chicken nuggets come to your plate. From a live chicken to school lunch, we see the bird killed, plucked, processed, ground up, reformed into a patty, etc, but the chunk of flesh we’re following has a surprise in store for the little girl who bites into it. She gets sick and bites another student, and the virus quickly spreads throughout the already very susceptible school population.
The film wisely takes time to setup and introduce the various teachers before the carnage begins, and it’s a wonderfully motley crew. Lucy (Alison Pill) is an old classmate (and crush) of Clint’s, and she teaches there alongside her current boyfriend, Wade (Rainn Wilson) the gym teacher. Jack McBrayer, Nasim Pedrad, Jorge Garcia, and Leigh Whannell (who also co-wrote the film with Ian Brennan, who also co-stars) round out the gang.
The cast is uniformly strong across the board, but some are given far little to do. Garcia gets a fun introduction before the script runs out of ideas for him, and McBrayer is stuck with the film’s biggest and most unfortunate flaw. He’s on the receiving end of a series of is he/isn’t he gay jokes and assumptions, and not only is the gag exceedingly tired it’s also remarkably unfunny here.
The leads fare much better with Wood, Pill, and Wilson all getting their time to shine. This isn’t Wood’s first schoolyard battle against evil, but instead of fighting against The Faculty this time he is the faculty. The film’s most reliable character for laughs though is Whannell’s Doug the science teacher. He offers up a steady stream of one-liners, non-sequiturs, and throw away comments, and in the rare instances where one of his bits bomb he gets back on his feet almost immediately. “Word.”
First-time feature directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion deliver a bright, highly energetic movie that manages to find the sweet spot of films featuring kids and extreme violence. It’s just absurd enough and obviously not based in reality, and besides, some of these kids are little shits who deserve to be impaled with a cock-shaped rooster-shaped trailer hitch.
Cooties is a ridiculously good time at the movies for viewers who like their laughs with a side of disembowelment. Some jokes fall flat, and there are some lazy story jumps (why is she digging? where are the parents?), but they’re the exceptions to the rule. You wouldn’t want to catch cooties, but you should most definitely make a date to catch Cooties.
The Upside: Extremely funny; bloody, gory fun
The Downside: The “gay” joke thread is tired and unfunny; some inconsistencies in logic/story; ending is a bit of a cop-out
On the Side: Saying “Circle circle dot dot, now you’ve got the cooties shot!” will in fact not protect you from catching cooties.