There are many opportunities for dread offered by the zombie genre. The shambling, increasingly putrefying undead. The threat of losing one’s own humanity. Cooties introduces in a new one: chickens.
A new horror comedy from first-time directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion, Cooties the gruesome passage from battery farming to school meal via flies, maggots, and pink sludge. When one particularly putrescent nugget turns a pig-tailed preteen from youngster into monster, it falls to the teaching staff of Fort Chicken Elementary to hold back the tide. The only problem? They’re a collection of weirdos, the sort of people you’d least want looking after your kids, let alone trying to contain an epidemic (sorry, pandemic).
There’s the new guy Clint (Elijah Wood), a would-be Stephen King recently returned to live with his mum. There’s Lucy (Alison Pill), a peppy, blonde former crush of Clint’s, and her boyfriend, Wade (Rainn Wilson), the pickup-driving, cowboy boot-wearing, mustache-sporting PE teacher. There’s also the flamboyant, innuendo-prone Tracy (Jack McBrayer, essentially reprising his role from 30 Rock), no-nonsense Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad), and, camped out in his bitchin’ van, trippin’, lollipop man Rick (Jorge Garcia, best known as Hurley in Lost).
While there’s inherent humor in transposing the gore of the zombie genre into the playground — kids playing jump rope with human intestines, for instance — Cooties mostly offers the opportunity to see popular actors in some familiar roles. The inescapably Hobbit-like Wood manages to make his character’s literary pretensions mostly endearing, as opposed to annoying, and Wilson tempers Wade with enough insecurity about his failed sporting career to compensate for the fact he’s pretty much a douchebag.
The biggest recipient of Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan’s screenplay, however, is Whannell himself who appears as the socially inept, scene-stealing science teacher Doug, delivering such lines as “Oh, look carnage” and “He’ll tear your goddamn face off. You’ll look like that chimp woman!”.
The final act may veer towards the smug — and feature the unnecessary, ever-so-slightly-racist figure of a mop-wielding Japanese janitor —but if you were ever sat next to that obnoxious kid in school, the one called Hunter, or Patriot, and wished the teacher could just go to town on them with whatever office supplies happened to come to hand, then Cooties could be just your (slightly congealed) cup of tea.