A mysterious virus hits an isolated elementary school, transforming the kids into a feral swarm of mass savages. An unlikely hero must lead a motley band of teachers in the fight of their lives.
Circle, circle, dot, dot, now you have a cooties shot…
Films featuring pint-sized psycho killers have been an eternal staple of the horror genre with the thought of evil inhabiting angelic little nippers being far more chilling than virtually any movie monster or villain you can think of. For that reason alone most evil infant movies have stuck to a darker more malicious tone, but then along came Cooties which, whilst serving up some nerve-wracking and grossly gruesome moments, deviates from clichéd killer kid conventions by being so game for a laugh.
The filmmakers’ unabashed comedic approach is clear no sooner are we introduced to the motley crew of summer school teachers; a bunch of oddball deviants each armed with their own peculiar mannerisms. The teaching staff’s diversity is pivotal to the film’s success and if it weren’t for the unhinged exchanges in the teachers’ lounge Cooties would have been nowhere near as entertaining as it ultimately is.
Most of the cast were a blast to watch. Elijah Wood is bullet-proof as the nerdy author-cum-teacher in a film that is a virtual reverse spin on one of his earlier films, The Faculty. Alison Pill shares some quality chemistry with Wood, playing his old flame but unfortunately now dating someone else, although I’m not at liberty to say who.
I was eager to see how Rainn Wilson took on his hard nut role as Wade and, for the most part, it worked, particularly whenever he showered Wood with all manner of criticisms, some of which even alluded to a certain character who dwells in The Shire. Wilson certainly holds his own but, despite some early comedy gold, his wisecracks ended up becoming a tad too samely for my liking. Thankfully though, the absolute opposite rang true for co-writer Leigh Whannell’s character, Doug, armed with his humongous knowledge of all things trivial and the most uncouth socialising skills ever. It’s just a shame he was given half as much screen time as the rest of the leads as pretty much every foot-in-mouth comment he blurts out is priceless.
And how do the kids fare? Whilst they are a seriously tough crowd even before the worst known case of the dreaded lurgy sets in, it was a nice touch to see a Rhoda Penmark clone be the first to fall victim to the Cooties virus. Then, when things really go pear-shaped, first-time helmers Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, together with cinematographer Lyle Vincent (whose previous work surprisingly includes A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), made the bold yet wise decision to shoot their bloodbath in broad daylight in all its gory glory. The blood runs insanely thick and, despite all the unrelenting kiddie killing going on, not once does it do any disservice to the film’s pitch black humour, something Dead Snow 2 also recently pulled off so well. Plaudits go to special effects genius Josh Hakian (Bad Milo/Cloverfield/Hatchet) as he creates the most inventive children’s/devil’s playground ever known to man.
Ultimately Cooties’ madcap characters and grotesque gore make for some absolutely harebrained but totally gratifying entertainment. The highjinks might start to lose some of its earlier momentum once we reach the final reel but the superlative ensemble cast keep everything palatable. As killer kid movies go, Cooties might not be the finest example but it’s certainly a unique trip and by far one of the funniest.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)