I usually don’t do well with comedies, my sense of humor is decidedly off so most of them leave me pretty cold. So it was with mixed feelings I headed out to see Cooties, a tale of contaminated chicken nuggets and prepubescent zombies.
The films starts with scenes that are anything but funny as we follow a chicken from factory farm to nuggets destined for school lunches, and one tainted nugget takes center stage on the trip. When it’s eaten by an adorable little girl she becomes a time bomb ready to explode.
It’s also Clint’s (Elijah Wood) first day as a substitute teacher at his old school. An aspiring writer who’s just one small step, (actually writing something), away from being a bestselling author. As his morning progresses he meets his old crush Lucy (Alison Pill) who also teaches there and her new boyfriend Wade (Rainn Wilson) the stereotypical gym teacher. Co writers Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan are also in the cast as Doug the science teacher and Vice Principal Simms respectively. He’s barely in his classroom when a couple of bullies start in on a girl with some nasty sores on here face and she proceeds to bite a chunk out of one of them. The epidemic has begun…
Cooties is a rare beast, it’s a horror comedy that is funny without insulting the genre the way movies like Scary Movie do, it plays with the genre and it’s expectations it laughs with it not at it. This may well be due to Leigh Whannell being one of the writers, if his name is familiar it because he wrote the original Saw and Insidious among others. He knows the genre and has respect for it. Ian Brennan is best known for his work on Glee and now Scream Queens. Maybe it’s due to the fact that neither come from a background in comedy that they approach things differently as well. The humor is as one might expect very dark, and gross revolving around body fluids, internal organs, death and mutilation, frequently performed on child zombies. Other genre staples are sent up, the love triangle, the “action hero” and assorted stereotypes all get their due. A running gag about one character’s sexual orientation does wear out it’s welcome fairly quickly though.
There are moments when Cooties does take itself seriously and provides some solid tension and scares making the shift from funny to scary and back again almost seamlessly. Often times I didn’t realize it was happening until I found myself at the edge of my seat waiting for something bad to happen. And a lot bad does happen frequently in very bloody ways. This is not a film for the easily grossed out or easily offended.
Given how well they handle such a difficult script is quite surprising to find that this is co directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion’s first film. They pull off something that a lot of experienced directors have failed at. These guys have a bright future ahead of them if they can keep this up.
I saw Cooties as part of the 2015 Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival where it took the audience prize, beating out the favorite, (and also excellent), Turbo Kid. I strongly recommend seeing this film, especially with an audience.