88 min., rated R.
Flesh-eating children will be the death of their teachers in "Cooties," an uneven but gleefully un-PC and irreverent horror-comedy that comes across as an acerbically quick ensemble comedy show that would air on NBC with prepubescent zombies dropped in for conflict. Being horrific and comic at the same time is a tonal push-and-pull that can be hard to crack, and debuting directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion and screenwriters Leigh Whannell ("Saw" and the "Insidious" series) & Ian Brennan (TV's "Glee" and the upcoming "Scream Queens") settle for an impish, all-in-good-fun romp of gasps, chuckles and entrails. It always feels like the film will break out even more and be the best it can be, hopefully realizing its utmost potential, but a decently entertaining midnight-movie favorite with a moderate cult following will just have to do.
Finding himself back in his Illinois hometown and just trying to write a book about an evil boat, aspiring New York horror writer Clint (Elijah Wood) picked the wrong day to be a sub at Fort Chicken Elementary. Unbeknownst to him and the rest of the faculty—among them, the perky Lucy (Alison Pill), whom Clint hasn't seen in fifteen years and still has eyes for him; gym teacher Wade (Rainn Wilson), Lucy's intimidating jackass boyfriend; socially awkward sex-ed teacher (Leigh Whannell); closeted-but-not-convincing-anyone art teacher Tracy (Jack McBrayer); and tightly wound conservative Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad)—a tainted chicken nugget makes its way into the cafeteria and snowballs a viral outbreak that turns the classrooms of entitled brats into wheezing, growling, blister-infested monsters. Outnumbered and vulnerable, the adults (and a few children who made it) can only barricade themselves in the teacher's lounge for so long before they must fight back and get to safety.
Built around childhood's innocuous (and fictional) disease from the opposite sex that gets turned into an icky foodborne virus, "Cooties" has an inspired premise that's off-the-charts gross, especially right off the top and in the first act. The opening title sequence, which includes the killing of a chicken, the infection of the carcass from a fly, the manufacturing of chicken nuggets, and then a pig-tailed girl in the cafeteria biting into the oozing food, is disturbingly bleak and stomach-churning enough to make one go vegan. Next up, "Patient Zero" has her pig tail ripped right out of her scalp, squishy sound effect included, by a bully named Patriot (Cooper Roth), who was born on September 11th, and takes a chunk out of his cheek. It's that kind of movie, folks. A lot of the film's bonkers humor is wrong—children playing tetherball with a severed head and jump roping with intestines are a few of the macabre sights—but within the tongue-in-cheek tone and handling of teachers banding together against their infected pupils, it feels so right. To read the rest of the review, go to Diabolique Magazine.
Grade: B -