Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Cooties

Playing off the recent zombie craze, children turn their undead powers on the adults at their school in this campy comedy.

Kids are monsters. In “Cooties,” that notion is taken to a literal extreme.

After an opening montage that seriously has me questioning if I will ever be able to eat a chicken nugget again, an infection spreads throughout a schoolyard. The infection targets children only—anyone who’s been through puberty is immune. As a teacher named Doug (Leigh Whannell, who also co-wrote) explains, the disease attacks the brain and kills off the higher functions. In other words, the kids become ravenous zombies, hell bent on devouring human flesh.

This is especially bad news for Clint (Elijah Wood), who’s having a rough day as it is. He’s a failed novelist who moved from New York and now lives back home with his mother (Kate Flannery) in the aptly named suburb of Fort Chicken, IL. In order to make some money, he agrees to teach summer school at his former middle school. Things immediately get off to a shaky start after a mean-spirited, snot-nosed little brat named Patriot (Cooper Roth)—so named because he was born on 9-11—gives him a hard time in class. After the punk turns his attention to bullying a girl named Shelly (Sunny May Allison)--who is the one who ate the bad nugget and is patient zero--he literally yanks her pig tail off of her head. This does not sit well with Shelly, who reacts as you’d expect a vengeful zombie to react.

After she bites him, Shelly disappears and Patriot becomes the leader of the student rebellion. Any kid who has ever had a tough time in school with a teacher or administrator and wished to revolt would find Patriot and his rebellion cathartic. Meeting a particularly nasty end is well-meaning but naïve Vice Principal Simms (Ian Brennan). They may be children, but they are very effective at coming together for a kill. I imagine there’s a metaphor here for the weak coming together to defeat the powerful, and how there’s strength in numbers, but I don’t think Whannell and his co-writers were going that deep. The kids have turned into zombies and are attacking the teachers. End of story.

“Cooties” is the horror-comedy version of “Night of the Living Dead.” As such, it’s modeled on the classic siege movie. Zombies are on the outside, trying to get in. It’s up to a rag tag group of misfits, which include Clint, Doug, and fellow teachers Wade (Rainn Wilson), Lucy (Alison Pill), Tracy (Jack McBrayer), Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad), and Hitachi (Peter Kwong) to navigate the halls, find safe spaces (the real kind, not the SJW kind), and when necessary, fight off the hordes of hungry pre-pubescent zombies that want to kill them.

Just writing the end of that last sentence makes me giddy. I have to give “Cooties” credit for being brave enough to go there. Tossed out the window are any notions of children being fragile, beautiful snowflakes who need coddling and protection. This movie takes the opposite approach. It portrays them (through the virus) as a raging bunch of degenerates who consume all in their path and take away the lives of the adults around them—literally. It’s a brazen assertion, and it’s refreshing to see a movie that pushes the limits of taste. The big risk, and question to be asked, of a movie that pushes these boundaries is: “Does it work?”

I say yes. “Cooties” is by no means an anti-child movie. It does, however, recognize the value and importance of teachers while also recognizing that our views of children being sweet and innocent are unfounded. Kids are capable of doing terrible things if not properly checked and given guidance. A large part of that guidance is in school. In its own way, “Cooties” is a note of appreciation to teachers everywhere. They endure the horrors that masses of children bring about so that no one else has to. The only difference is that in this movie, the horror comes in the form of flesh-eating adolescent zombies. Buy it.

Cooties [Blu-ray + Digital HD]

More New Releases: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” twenty-fifth anniversary release of the beloved tale of Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) trying to create a memorable, old fashioned Christmas for his family—and the chaos that ensues; “Some Kind of Beautiful,” about a Cambridge poetry professor who begins to re-evaluate his life, starring Pierce Brosnan, Selma Hayek, and Jessica Alba; “War Pigs,” which borrows more from the plot of “The Dirty Dozen” than it does from the lyrics of the Black Sabbath song; and “Momentum,” a movie that made headlines on Thanksgiving morning for being a $20 million movie that sold only $69 worth of tickets in the UK—even with Morgan Freeman in it.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

Cron Job Starts