“You are what they eat.”
Director: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Cast: Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill
Synopsis: 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.
Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is Clint, an aspiring novelist who, having failed to take the New York literary world by storm, is now living with his mother in his small home town. The literary world has nothing to regret, judging by the sample of his writing that we hear as he drives to his first day as a supply teacher at the school he once attended as a pupil. He shows little talent, even for a writer of horror fiction, and as Wade (Rainn Wilson – Super), the obnoxious gym teacher at Clint’s new school, points out, his story bears more than a passing resemblance to Stephen King’s Christine.
Wade is just one of an eclectic mix of oddballs and eccentrics amongst the school’s teaching staff. In fact, the only normal person there appears to be Wade’s girlfriend, Lucy (Alison Pill – Midnight in Paris), for whom Clint has carried a torch since childhood. However, Clint has barely had a chance to renew their acquaintance before one of his new pupils flees his class after having first bitten a sizeable chunk from the cheek of an obnoxious classmate who was tormenting her. Before the victim can receive proper treatment he starts displaying the same feral symptoms as his attacker, and it’s not long before the whole pupil population is transformed into a pack of ravenous zombies.
Although he has almost 100 acting credits on his CV, Elijah Wood isn’t easy to cast. Too slight and lightweight to play a conventional hero, his career is now defined by his role as Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings movies and its spin-offs, and you can be sure that any comedy in which he appears will more often than not find a way to squeeze in a jokey hobbit reference. Cooties, which Wood also co-produced, certainly doesn’t pass up the opportunity, and his reaction is amongst the funniest moments of a comedy-horror hybrid which ultimately fails to wring enough laughs from a promising scenario.
Although Woods is the star, he’s overshadowed by Wilson in the admittedly flashier part of gym teacher Wade, whose gung-ho attitude only partially succeeds in masking both his ineptitude and insecurity, while Leigh Whannell (Insidious) who co-wrote with Ian Brennan (creator of Glee), saves many of the best scenes for himself in the role of a socially inept sex ed teacher. While Cooties does deliver some wry observations on stereotypical horror tropes (“Why do they all pound?” bemoans a despairing teacher trapped in a basement store by rampaging pint-sized zombies. “What does all the pounding accomplish?”), there are just a few too many quiet spots for the film to maintain its momentum. And while it’s become customary for movies to leave the way open for a sequel, this one leaves a few too many plot strands hanging to provide a completely satisfactory ending. Cooties does have a lot of spirit, though, and its determined efforts to find humour in a horror scenario earns it a lot of goodwill.
(Reviewed 20th November 2015)