When some gnarly virus gets into the chicken nuggets sent to a small-town elementary school, one girl takes the wrong bite and winds up turning into a flesh-eating zombie. Soon she transforms the other kids, too, and before they can finish their lunch break the school's teachers find themselves trapped inside the building with no way to escape as the killer kids close in.
That's the premise of Cooties, a horror-comedy that takes the zombie movie to all sorts of fresh, weird and hilarious places. On paper its setup sounds incredibly risky. How do you make a horror movie about killer kids without viciously killing said kids in order to survive? Well, the movie answers that question: you don't. You just go for it. But the film does a fantastic job of executing its premise without leaving you questioning its intentions.
This is a straight-up monster movie that just happens to be set inside an elementary school, which opens the door to all sorts of clever sequences involving broken vending machines, schoolyard mayhem and leftover gym equipment. Cooties knows its subject matter, though, and like any good horror movie that actually sticks with you, it's more about the characters than the kills. It's more about the sticky situations than the bloody beatdowns (although there are definitely a few of those to go around).
Directed by newcomers Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion (who do a great job balancing the humor and horror of the situation without ever losing their tone), Cooties was also cowritten by Leigh Whannell, who 10 years ago brought a little movie called Saw to Sundance with his buddy James Wan. In fact, Cooties premiered 10 years to the day that Saw premiered in the very same theater, and with Whannell also starring in the film as a scene-stealing weirdo teacher, it was great watching him break loose from James Wan and exploit his funny side.
Of course, having a cast full of funny actors -- most of whom are genre veterans-- doesn't hurt in the slightest. Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jorge Garcia, Jack McBrayer and Nasim Pedrad form a badass ensemble of boneheads who can barely communicate with each other, let alone plan some intricate escape strategy. And while the film could've taken more advantage of its setting (a scene where the teachers somehow fight off an attack with No. 2 pencils would've been fantastic), Cooties has a lot of fun exploiting the absurdity of the situation while delivering a rare zombie movie that doesn't feel like its regurgitating old clichés.
The only real downside is that you'll probably never eat another chicken nugget again.
Cooties premiered in the Midnight section at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and its theatrical release is still TBD. For more coverage of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, hit this page up.
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