Since you’re all going to be dead soon anyway, I should tell you. I hate every single one of you.
The zombie franchise is one that has, no pun intended, died a very slow death in recent years due to a plethora of predictable and boring approaches to the subject matter. Ranging from the Paul Anderson’s horrible Resident Evil films, the bland final installments of George A Romero’s “of the Living Dead” series and countless found footage films, the genre really hasn’t been having a good run recently, and even the Brad Pitt hit “World War Z” has done little to improve the general perception of things.
Growing up I was a huge fan of the genre and have probably seen more than 100 films based on the zombie theme. Resident Evil is to this day the only film where I have ever listened to the director’s commentary, and I feel passionately that if done right, this is a great genre, hence why the first review I ever wrote on this site was for a zombie film, but the number of decent zombie movies never really increases by the years, with very few even making it into the high tolerability range.
So I wait here with anticipation to see if a cast of well known actors can pull off a decent horror flick…..I’m not going to hold my breath as I’ve seen plenty of films with decent casts be abysmal, but I suppose I should give it a chance.
Clint (Wood), a writer who has spent the last few years in New York, has returned to his home town of Fort Chicken to take up a teaching job whilst writing his next book. Within minutes of starting he has already alienated him from most of the staff, with the exception of Lucy (Pill), a childhood friend, who is genuinely pleased to see him.
Meanwhile, a student bites into a chicken nugget in the canteen and starts showing signs of illness. Clint walks into his first lesson with his new class and is immediately antagonised by Patriot (Cooper Roth). Patriot then turns his attentions to the girl who ate the chicken nugget after she starts breathing heavily, and she reacts by biting a huge chunk. After taking Patriot to the nurse, Clint and Lucy sit down for a meal in the staff room, completely unaware that the playground is full of children attacking each other and the few adults that remain. They do eventually realise what is happening when socially awkward teacher Doug (Whannel) comments.
The teachers all realise that they need to escape the school to survive, but they also stumble across some unaffected children that have seemingly started adolescence, and Doug theorises that the virus is only affecting those that have yet to go through puberty. With this and the knowledge that they can’t be turned, the teachers all try and break out, all the while watching helplessly as the children make short work of unsuspecting parents that are coming to pick them up.
Is it a decent zombie film or the typical nonsense?
There are a lot of parts about Cooties that I like, but there is also a bit that I dislike and therefore I am slightly torn over whether it was decent or not.
Let’s start with the positives and there is no better place to cement the foundations of the positive part of this review than talking about Elijah Wood. Wood’s portrayal as the neurotic main character is near perfect, it suits him right down to the ground and it was almost like he was born for this role. Wood has that great ability to portray a character who is very needy and self-absorbed, but is somehow still likable.
There is a scene right at the beginning where Clint is getting the children in his new class to read out the manuscript for his new book and it sums the character up perfectly. He is eagerly anticipating a positive review from the children and the level of excitement on his face is wonderfully caught by Wood, but deep down there is also the underlying sense of ego as he doesn’t realise it’s inappropriate to waste the lesson time with personal endeavors. There is literally no realisation in his face that what he is doing serves no-one but him.
He is just one of a wonderful cast of characters and Rainn Wilson is the standout performer after Wood. He plays Wade, a character that I’m not entirely sure I can sum up easily due to the complexity of his nature. The character develops so much during the film and is completely different by the end. You don’t really get characters that develop that much during a relatively short run time, although it does make the character seem a bit inconsistent at time.
There subtle jokes that the film pulls off are quite clever, such as Wade appearing to be your typical jock style teacher, only to turn out to be horrendously bad at basketball. In many ways it is not only amusing, but does add something to the character, i/e the bravado isn’t justified or backed up in any way whatsoever.
And finally on the positive side of things is something that you don’t see that often in zombie films, infact I can only think of two others with a similar trait, and that is that the zombies use tactics to get what they want. This adds a new element of danger to the film as you know that they’re not completely mindless, they are capable of killing people and the characters could die at any minute. That’s what I want in a horror film, I want to feel that characters could die at any minute, hence why I loved Lost After Dark. If I know which characters are going to survive within the first five minutes, what’s the point?
Mini Spoiler for You (go past the picture to avoid) : All of the main characters survive
All of that being said, there were a few things that left me slightly away from the “liking it” feel and the first of those was the very last scene. I’m not going to go too far into it because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it is blatantly obvious that the filmmakers are leaving it wide open for a sequel, and sometimes it is just not needed. It’s perfectly possible to make a movie that doesn’t need a sequel and it still be a success.
For example, my Top 5 films of 2014 were (in order of 1-5) Nightcrawler, Wolf of Wall Street, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gone Girl and X Men DOFP, three of those will almost certainly never have a sequel, and they don’t need them. Not every film needs to be left open to the possibility of a sequel and sometimes laying that foundation if a sequel isn’t really justified. Because of the way it ended Cooties doesn’t really feel like a finished film and I was left largely unsatisfied with it, almost making the previous 80odd minutes that I had invested feel almost worthless.
Whilst I liked it on the whole and did find it relatively amusing, there were also a few jokes that were obvious nods to the previous work of some of the actors and they are delivered in a way that the watcher is meant to go “I see what you did there” and it feel completely natural, but it rarely works. The example in Cooties is when Wade calls Clint a hobbit, an obvious nod to Elijah Wood’s role as Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and the brief cameo at the beginning of The Hobbit). It’s a nod that just isn’t needed, it doesn’t add anything of substance to the film and is an obvious attempt at being funny….and unfortunately it just doesn’t work.
At times the story also feels like it is standing still and long segments pass where not a lot is actually happening other than the characters having a chat, and whilst this allows for good character development, the slow nature of the film meant that the second half of it’s near 90 minute run time felt almost like a slog towards the conclusion, and if anything the film was about 10 minutes too long.
A fun zombie romp that quickly loses it’s mojo about half way through and limps towards an unnatural finish. The ending feels largely unnatural and disconnected in so many ways from the rest of the story. This causes many issues, not least of which is that the final 15 or so minutes feels like they’re setting up a sequel rather then concentrating on finishing off the film they currently have.
That being said, Cooties is one of the more original zombie films I’ve seen in a while and maybe it’s due to the antagonists being children, something which is very rare in comedy.
I’d say if you’re a fan of zombie movies then you’ll probably enjoy this quite a bit, but the ending felt almost unwarranted and for that I can’t give it the normal approved stamp.