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    Cooties (2015): Movie Review

    "A mildly amusing teacher-versus-students zom-com.” 

    It’s teachers versus students in Cooties, the directorial debut of Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. However, the odds are against the teachers as their students, after being infected with cooties-related virus, have turned into ultra-sensitive ravenous flesh-eaters.

    The pandemic is caused by adulterated chicken nuggets and the movie begins with how the popular food item is produced. Basically, live chickens are taken out of the farm, dressed into meat, minced and eventually turned into those delectable globs. However, a diseased chicken escapes inspection and gets included in the final products which are then immediately packaged and delivered to schools. A young girl bites heartily on a particular oozy nugget and symptoms of infection begin manifesting on her.

    Clint (Elijah Wood) is an aspiring writer who is scrambling with the first draft of his novel. Fresh from New York City where he teaches, Clint returns home and lives with his mom. Luckily, he instantly gets a job substituting at his old elementary school. After meeting the screwball, hippie vice principal (co-writer Ian Brennan), Clint immediately begins class. Unknown to him, the infected girl is in his class and after a scuffle with a fellow student, she turns violent and lashes out at the boy, biting a good chunk off his cheek. The virus begins to spread and before recess, almost all kids in the campus become brain-dead bloodthirsty monsters.

    In order to survive, Clint bonds with the other teachers and altogether, they fight off the zombie frenzy. His team includes the alpha-male, mustachioed and hairy-chested gym teacher Wade (Rainn Wilson), Clint’s long-time crush Lucy (Alison Pill), the clumsy and awkward sex-ed teacher Doug (co-writer Leigh Whannell), closeted Tracy (Jack McBrayer), other girl teacher Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad) and stoner security guard Rick (Jorge Garcia). 

    Cooties opens with a promising note. In an innocent yet subtly creepy fashion, it documents the step-by-step procedure of making chicken nuggets from the merciless murder of chickens up to the packaging and delivery of the final products. Yet, the inclusion of the contaminated meat, indicated by the suspiciously blooded claw, a differently-colored eye, and worms from the flesh, is gut-wrenching that you may not want to eat chicken nuggets very soon. It is a good and auspicious start; however, as soon as the infection begins and battle for survival ensues, the movie becomes a standard-issue zom-com.

    The film adopts a playful tone throughout but there is nothing surprising about a bunch of unlikely individuals to unite in a time of calamity. There is insufficient comic dynamics between teachers and their gags and ingenuities are mildly amusing. The sudden insertion of character (the kung-fu expert janitor) midway feels forced and uncomfortable, as well as the guard who literally sits in his van until the end where his presence becomes handy. With its shortage of truly funny physical comedy and hilarious lines, the film almost relies on the comic timing of its actors. Wilson and Whannell are the winners in this aspect as they are very natural and unforgiving with their roles. Wade is the conventional badass-turned-hero figure and Wilson exactly fits the picture. Meanwhile, Whannell gives equal dosage of moroseness and geeky-ness to Doug. Wood is a welcome presence and he receives quite a handful of hobbit-related jokes.

    The biggest struggle of the film is how to make such a violent material hilarious. Can killing a kid, even if it is a zombie, be really funny? When one of the teacher pounds a zombie student to teach, there is an uneasy feeling that something is not good and right. Perhaps, the feature is too desperate to become funny that it forgets to put some heart in its narrative.

    For the genre fans, there is plenty of violence and gore to excite you. One remarkable point of the film is when it deftly displays a montage of zombie kids playing with their new toys – eye marbles, blood water-colors, bowels skipping-ropes and head balls.

    Despite its gruesome and powerful prologue, Cooties ultimately falls into conventional zombie films. It gradually loses its sensitivity and both its comedy and violence become insufferable. 

    Production companies: SpectreVision, Glacier Films 
    Cast: Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Leigh Whannell, Jack McBrayer, Nasim Pedrad, Jorge Garcia, Ian Brennan
    Director: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion 
    Screenwriter: Leigh Whannell, Ian Brennan 
    Producers: Tove Christensen, Georgy Malkov, Daniel Noah, Steven Schneider, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood 
    Director of photography: Lyle Vincent 
    Editor: Brett W. Bachman 
    Music: Kreng


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