Cathartic Gore for Teachers - "Cooties" Review
A grotesque and disgusting intro credits sequence shows us the processed creation of a chicken nugget. Since the beginning, when we see the selected poor chicken for slaughter, we know that something is wrong. A viscous, greenish, and rotten liquid is on the chicken's corpse, following the entire process of dismantling, preparation, packaging, and distribution. The sequence ends with a little girl student named Shelly (Sunny May Allison) grossly biting the infected nugget.
We already know where this is going.
Cooties is a perfect title for this movie. Used as a tag game and/or as a kid insult, it's the perfect link between children and a contagious virus.
The protagonist is Clint (Elijah Wood), a substitute teacher and aspiring writer who has returned to his hometown of Fort Chicken in Illinois to try to finish his horror novel, while earning a few dollars making substitutions in summer school, at the same high school where he studied as a kid.
There, Clint reconnects with his old crush Lucy McCormick (Alison Pill), now a teacher. Wade (Rainn Wilson) is the classic redneck douchy PE teacher and Lucy's boyfriend. Doug (Leigh Whannell) is another teacher with serious problems about socializing, but with some great random specific knowledge about viruses and pandemics.
Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad) is a very conservative and rigid teacher, who has an anti-rape alarm that is activated as soon as someone touches her. Jorge Garcia plays a shroom addicted "dude", Ian Brennan is a condescending vice principal and Peter Kwong is an Asian janitor who knows martial arts because racism.
This group of teachers will have to deal with the virus contracted by Shelly, which manifests itself first with facial blisters and red eyes, and then ends up turning the kid into a feral cannibal. In the recess hour, Shelly ends up infecting practically all the children, turning the story into a battle between healthy teachers and infected students.
In addition, the lines are clearly marked; the virus is only spread among humans who have not yet gone through puberty. So teachers won't get infected. They should only make sure not to be devoured by the small creatures.
Cooties has to be US elementary school teachers' favorite movie. It's a cathartic cartoonish tale of the ungrateful process of dealing with dozens of children and trying to educate them. I can clearly imagine thousands of professors laughing hysterically—under the frightened look of others—at scenes like the one when a child is beaten to death with a bat or another one where they use a truck to drag an infected kid on the asphalt.
Cooties looks perfectly like the product of its two screenwriters. Leigh Whannell is the creator of the Saw saga and Ian Brennan is the creator of the TV show Glee. Therefore, Cooties is gore and dark humor in an explosively colorful high school context. And that contrast is precisely its strong point.
The special effects are very well achieved. The CGI blood may look somewhat false at times, but the rest of the effects have a high level. There is particularly a great visual effect towards the end, in which a child loses his jaw. I still don't know if that was makeup, CGI or a mixture of both. That's a really good special effect right there.
The cast is the other big reason why Cooties is an entertaining experience. Elijah Wood and Rainn Wilson are household names in projects that require comedy and drama. Alison Pill has less experience but her work in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Newsroom speaks volume. Here, she is the perfect vertex in the love triangle. The same Leigh Whannell—who also has an acting career, being his role of "Specs" in Insidious—plays a hilarious character, as does Ian Brennan.
The rest of the cast is of great quality, but their characters feel underutilized. Nasim Pedrad, for example, is a fantastic comedy actress, but her role is quite minor. And you can say the same for Jack McBrayer, Kate Flannery, and Jorge Garcia.
What's Your Rating For Cooties?
Unfortunately, Cooties don't take the time to develop their characters or at least generate interesting arcs. In fact, it evades what organically should have happened with the protagonist trio just to—I suppose—avoid being "predictable".
It doesn't make sense to generate a love story between Clint and Lucy, only for Wade to end up staying with the girl. If Wade were the protagonist of this story (and I could actually see that movie), that ending would have been perfect because he's perhaps the only character that really makes a major change in his life.
Cooties won't become a classic, but its setting is quite original and its execution has very good quality. Sometimes we demand just too much.
Release Year: 2014
Director(s): Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Actors: Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, a.o.
© 2019 Sam Shepards