In the horror-comedy, “Cooties,” Elijah Wood plays a middle school teacher who must join forces with other staff members in an attempt to survive the night after their prepubescent students contract a deadly virus and turn into rabid monsters.
Truth be told, “Cooties” is more of a viral outbreak movie than an all-out zombie flick—not that anyone will argue about that distinction, because “Cooties” never takes itself seriously. In fact, this flick is far funnier than it is scary. Given the “R” rating and the creative concept, though, “Cooties” would have greatly benefited from being more extreme in the gore and violence department. An “R” rated movie about kids turning into zombies—comedy or not—really should go all the way, and there are times when this movie is aggravatingly hesitant. If you’re going to have a scene wherein a physical education teacher is cornered by murderous kids and all he has at to defend himself is a rack filled with basketballs, you might as well have the guy dispatch the youngsters, “Deadly Friend” style (if you don’t get the reference, I suggest you rent Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend” as soon as humanly possible).
Having said that, “Cooties” offers up big laughs, many of them supplied by a hilariously dry Leigh Whannell (who also co-wrote the script) and a goofy but lovable Rainn Wilson. If Whannell and Wilson bring the funny, then it’s Wood and Alison Pill who bring the likability and sweetness as teachers with a bit of a crush on one another.
“Cooties” is fun enough. Again, it could have been more extreme, and there are certainly lazy moments (Jorge Garcia’s thankless role could have been omitted entirely). But directors Jonathan Millot and Cary Murnion bring energy, and based on the many references peppered throughout the film, it’s clear that they have a great fondness for the genre. This version of “Cooties” also comes with a stronger ending then the one 2014 Sundance Film Festival audiences might be familiar with. Let’s just say that this new and improved finale suggests that the problem at hand might be much larger than these middle school staff members initially realize. One thing is certain: Next time I have lunch with my son at the school cafeteria, I’ll be a little more mindful of what I eat.
“Cooties” is currently in limited release. You can also catch it via video on demand.