Director – Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Cast – Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Armani Jackson
Release Year – 2015
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Films about killer children have their place in the genre thanks to the taboo nature of kids killing and (sometimes) kids being killed in return. I have seen a few good ones these last few years – 2008’s The Children and Orphan (minus the twist) – and I must say that Cooties is the most “fun” of recent time. With a solid cast, a few good laughs, and lots of gory zombie children mayhem, this was a much better experience than I expected.
When a local chicken factory delivers tainted nuggets to an elementary in Ft. Chicken, Illinois, the students are turned into flesh eating zombies. With half the faculty ripped to pieces and the school overrun by children with serious behavioral issues, the remaining staff of misfits must band together to survive the worst workweek of their lives.
The story follows Clint Hadson (Elijah Wood), an aspiritng horror writer from Brooklyn who is now back in his hometown of Ft. Chicken. Forced to live with his mother and take a substituting job at the local elementary, the last thing he expected to do is run into his former crush Lucy (Allison Pill) in his current condition. His elation at reuniting with her is cut short when he learns she is dating PE coach Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson). The character introductions are brisk and by the 18th minute a little girl has consumed an infected chicken nugget and bitten a bully in the face. Much to everyone’s misfortune, this happens right before recess and before you know it all of the kids are infected with the virus. They easily lay waste to the teachers and tear them apart in graphic fashion. This leaves just a handful of faculty to barricade themselves in the teacher’s lounge, but the constant onslaught of pre-teen carnage forces them to stay on the move.
As the survivors dwindle we are left with the core characters, and I enjoyed the hilarious interactions they have with each other. The story is written by Leigh Whannel and co-writer Ian Brennan. I was stoked to see Whannel’s name as writer because he has penned some of my favorite films – Insidious, Saw, and Dead Silence. To make matters more enjoyable, he also portrays one of the core characters in the film – Doug. I was expecting a silly plot, but I did not expect to laugh as much as I did. He took care to throw in colorful characters of contrasting personalities, which kept things interesting when the horror slowed down for a moment. Also, I didn’t expect to see such good horror. With killer kid films you are left wondering how strong the violence will be, and I am glad to say that the goods are plentiful here.
First-time directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion do a solid job. Live-action effects are used for the zombie children and for the plentiful gore they deliver. It’s not quite Day of the Dead, but we do see teachers have their stomachs ripped open by their students. The execution of this horror, aside from effects, really surprised me. Some of the scenes were genuinely shocking and filmed in a full-frontal manner that left little to the imagination. I didn’t think I’d come across any tension with a comedic film about killer kids, but good execution proved me wrong. The child actors did a fantastic job of being creepy, and I applaud the directors for achieving such performances from them. Our name actors also perform well, with Rainn Wilson as the showboat despite this being Elijah’s film. Again, what really makes them enjoyable is their interaction with each other, an achievement for Leigh Whannel.
Overall, Cooties is a fun film that I underestimated. The horror is great thanks to lots of gore, live-action effects, and good execution of the child zombies. It could have been better and isn’t without its faults, but the end result is an enjoyable flick that’ll go perfect on a beer & wings night with your friends.