Elijah Wood stars as substitute teacher/aspiring novel writer Clint in Cooties, a horror/action/black comedy about a virus outbreak that infects a class of crass kids in a primary school, located in the fictional town of Fort Chicken!
The story of a group banding together during an epidemic in a fight for survival is far from an original idea, however the Jonathan Milot and Cary Murion directed feature does something more imaginative with the concept. It’s a battle between the generations with the teachers versus the pupils that’s taken to a whole new, extreme level.
Cooties is every parent and teachers worst nightmare, accentuating universal fears, like all good horror films do. While its style is exaggerated with its sharp, quick-witted comedy and tell-it-like-it-is delivery of the script that Joss Whedon would be proud of, Cooties plays with some effecting themes that are a concern in 21st century culture; not just in the US but across Western society as a whole.
Firstly, it’s post 9/11 and the shift in dynamics is raised amongst the teachers who grew up before the unforgettable and terrible tragedy. There is a weakness in authority and the children lack respect. It’s addressed with the use of foul language, the back chat towards the teachers and aggressive behaviour toward one another. Even when called out on their vulgar attitudes, the kids shrug it off and show no inkling of mending their very bad ways.
With the hierarchy in authority falling apart; e.g. the principal is just a stand-in that attempts to confiscate mobile phones and encourage the kids to play outside, while Elijah’s character Clint is purely a substitute, filling in for an unseen, absent teacher. There is a breakdown in continuity that loses any form of consistency for the children of Fort Chicken, explaining their don’t-give-a-shit attitudes and utter repulsiveness. They are smart and know how to manipulate their teachers even as far as threats of sexual abuse accusations. The parental figures also don’t help matters by being too self-absorbed to see what’s going on under their noses, some even encouraging vile behaviour. Therefore when the kids do turn into literal monsters we never had empathy to begin with, which allows us to be morally comforted because killing kids off in a gruesome way is very taboo!
The other significant point Cooties addresses is the link between junk food and bad behaviour. There are dozens of documentaries out there that discuss the growing concern of obesity and easily prevented health problems that dominate today’s pre-pubescent generation. Cooties opens with a highly stylized yet incredibly graphic scene of the process from the chicken factory to the kid’s school dinner plate. I have alektorophobia so this scene in particular was squeamish viewing! So, there you have it, if you want to cause fear to this long-time horror fan, its chickens!
That said, the sequence is pretty gross, with close up shots of the pink slime that seeps its way into our popular fast food delicacy, chicken nuggets! The slime is shown covered in maggots, it may put off even the most hardcore meat eaters! I’m just grateful that I don’t eat McDonalds or KFC. The scene highlights how processed modern food is,
how one little piece of infected meat can go unnoticed, this is extremely scary! This chicken nugget then gets eaten by an unsuspecting schoolgirl and all hell breaks loose!
Despite intercepting some interesting and profound metaphors that are essentially played to the extreme, Cooties is without a doubt a lot of fun. It’s like an American Shaun of the Dead mixed with the plot of a Supernatural episode. It’s well cast with Wood playing the meek, self-conscious former student-turned teacher who seeks more from life in the shape of publishing his Stephen King-esque novel about a possessed boat. Alison Pill is the quirky yet awkward, girl-next-door-type Lucy and as expected there’s some romantic tension between the two. Lucy is paired with macho sports coach Wade, played by Rainn Wilson, who managed to steals the show with some great one-liners and badass moments. This love triangle welcomingly breaks convention, taking a completely unexpected direction.
Leigh Whannell delivers a fun performance as science teacher Doug, who uses complicated language when attempting to explain the virus, played to comic effect. They of course had to get a SAW reference in there! There are plenty of horror movie references galore, look out for Chucky!
Cooties is a clever horror/comedy. It doesn’t hold back on the carnage and is surprisingly eye-opening for a film of this kind. At times it comes across a little generic as these kind of films do but that is outweighed by its positives. It’s certainly refreshing to see a modern horror film take issues that plague our society and does something that’s both creative and horrifying at the same time. Cooties is post-modern, fourth-wall breaking, intelligent horror disguised in a comical packaging.