The zombie genre has certainly exploded over the last few years, so it might seem like there aren’t many different ideas left to explore, but that didn’t stop Lionsgate’s Cooties from giving it a shot. To my surprise, this film found a way to carve its own tiny corner in the giant tapestry that has become the pop-culture realm of the living dead with this funnier than expected, ensemble horror-comedy.
Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) is Clint, an aimless, failed writer returning from New York to his hometown of Fort Chicken in an effort to get his life back on track. Clint takes a teaching job at the local elementary school with the unfortunate luck that his first day coincides with a zombie outbreak caused by chicken nuggets that were served at the school cafeteria. But the twist? The undead infection only affects individuals who haven’t gone through puberty yet, so Clint and his fellow teachers are trapped in a school with hordes of zombie children and seemingly no escape.
The premise of Cooties itself is worthy of a chuckle, but I wondered how that could sustain itself for a two-hour movie. The film is the directorial debut of Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, known mainly for their work in advertising, and the duo does a commendable job of keeping the scares – and gore – fresh and funny. There’s just something innately terrifying and at the same time humorous about children running around eating people and then meeting ridiculous, graphic deaths by our heroes.
But the strongest element of the film is the ensemble comedic cast including Rainn Wilson (The Office), Alison Pill (The Newsroom, Scott Pilgrim vs the World), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Nassim Pedrad (SNL, Scream Queens), and Jorge Garcia (Lost) just to name a few. Every character gets at least one big laugh in the film and they all have very distinctive characteristics that make them play humorous parts within the group.
Elijah Wood plays his “straight man to the zany side characters” with ease after years of perfecting this type of character on Wilfred. Rainn Wilson plays the school’s coach Wade, the most over-the-top of the characters, but Wilson’s full committal to his character helps pull off most of his jokes and one-liners more often than not. Cooties co-writer Leigh Whannel (Insidious) also took a role in the film and stole more than one scene with some hilariously unexpected lines from his socially awkward character Doug.
The ladies also bring the funny and Alison Pill is extremely cute as Lucy, Clint’s crush/Wade’s girlfriend, and the character gets more hilarious as she gets more and more amusingly unhinged. Nassim Pedrad is Rebekkah, the shallow opinionated one of the group, and perhaps made me laugh out loud more than any other character in the film with her narcissistic view of the events.
The script by Leigh Wannell and Ian Brennan (co-creator of Glee) isn’t always original and takes a lot of influence from things like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, but it still packs quite a bit of legitimately funny moments. Milott and Murnion also brought some really interesting shots and art direction to the film, resulting in a pretty impressive debut for the duo.
You may be burnt out on zombies, but Cooties definitely takes a funny premise and runs with it thanks to the ensemble comedic cast and plenty of gross out gore. If you’re looking for a creepy, fun film to watch with your friends this upcoming Halloween season, Cooties is well worth a look… after nap time, of course.