by Hope Madden
Welcome to the dog eat dog and child eat child world of elementary school.
Kids are nasty bags of germs. We all know it. It is universal truths like this that make the film Cooties as effective as it is.
What are some others? Chicken nuggets are repulsive. Playground dynamics sometimes take on the plotline of LORD OF THE FLIES. To an adult eye, children en masse can resemble a seething pack of feral beasts.
Directing team Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion harness those truths and more – each pointed out in a script penned by a Leigh Whannell-led team of writers – to satirize the tensions to be found in an American elementary school.
Whannell – co-creator of both the Saw and Insidious franchises – co-stars as the socially impaired science teacher on staff. He’s joined by a PE teacher (Rainn Wilson), an art teacher (Jack McBrayer), two classroom teachers (Alison Pill, Nasim Pedrad), and the new sub, Clint (Elijah Wood), in a fight for survival once an aggressive virus hits the student population of Fort Chicken.
School-based horror abounds – even Wood’s done it previously, having starred in Robert Rodriguez’s 1998 alien invasion fantasy The Faculty.
Cooties is also not the first horror film to mine tensions from the image of monstrous children turned against us. Come Out and Play (both the 2013 American version and its Spanish predecessor Who Can Kill a Child?) generate tensions based on the presumed difficulty an adult would have in slaughtering children.
Two things set Cooties apart. One: It is often laugh out loud funny. Two: It is willing to indulge the subversive fantasy of (possibly all) school teachers.
They kill a lot of children in this movie.
If Murnion and Milott couldn’t find the comedic tone to offset the seriously messed up violence, the film would be a distasteful, even offensive failure. But, thanks in part to a very game cast, as well as an insightful screenplay, Cooties comes off instead as a cathartic (if bloody) metaphor and an energetic burst of nasty fun. It might be welcome after school viewing in the teacher’s lounge.