Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with some thoughts on the big Sundance midnight flick COOTIES, produced by and starring Elijah Wood. The horror comedy is about a bunch of dipshit teachers who have to pull it together when their elementary school becomes ground zero of a new zombie apocalypse thanks to a contaminated cafeteria chicken nugget.
We follow Elijah Wood's frustrated writer character who returns to his small hometown, moves back in with his mom (played by The Office's Kate Flannery) and begins work as a substitute at his old elementary school. In a weird way this is kind of a full circle movie for Elijah Wood. It doesn't seem so long ago when he was playing the student fighting evil teachers in The Faculty and now he's the teacher fighting evil students. There's some wise monk-like phrase that can come out of that observation, but I'm way too tired and to come up with it at the moment.
Wood's fellow teachers include Rainn Wilson as the asshole ex-high school sports star gym teacher, the almost creepily nice Alison Pill who is an old friend (and crush) of Wood's character, Jack McBrayer as an art teacher constantly having to deny that he's gay, Jorge Garcia is a drugged out crossing guard and writer Leigh Whannell is just a flat out weirdo in the a dropped-on-his-head-as-a-baby kind of way.
So it doesn't inspire much confidence when it's these assholes who stand between virus-carrying children and the rest of the world.
Tonally, the movie falls right in line with what you expect a horror comedy called COOTIES to be. It's far more of a comedy than a horror movie in the lighting, production design and frequency of gross out and absurd humor, but it's got its moments of terrifying shrieking zombie kids ripping dudes apart and... well, being terrifying shrieking zombie kids.
The filmmakers want to add on to the zombie mythology here, changing the rules of how the virus spreads and who are susceptible in an interesting way. What that does is cement the feeling of a new world being explored, even in a silly movie like this one. It makes the story unpredictable, you're not just waiting for the filmmakers to go through the motions.
On the whole the narrative is a little scattershot, which can happen when you have a bunch of characters. That's not a movie-killer by any means, but it did seem to lose focus a little bit.
The saving grace is that directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion keep the tone light and fun and let the cast riff on each other and the situation. The big secret to a movie like this is to keep the absurdity level high and boy do that do that here. Pigtails being ripped off of rotted zombie girl scalps, kids playing handball with a decapitated head on a rope, Jorge Garcia tripping balls on shrooms and holding conversations with an invisible friend and a weapons-creation scene that is both badass and silly as shit.
Writers Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan weren't afraid to hit both extremes (gory and funny) and even managed to work in some real dimensionality to the characters, especially Rainn Wilson's Wade. You think you have that character pegged, with his bikerstache and giant truck blasting country music, but there's a moment about halfway through where you see the man behind the caricature. It's a nice moment and one that really elevates the film.
Lionsgate picked up the flick and that's a good buy for them. It's a fun movie, a good flick to see with an audience. Everybody onscreen is having a blast and it shows. It's not perfect, I don't know if it'll grow into a massive cult classic, but it wears its heart on its sleeve.
Before I wrap up, I should mention that I wrote a script called The Home a few years ago and Elijah was a producer on it before it fell apart 6 weeks out from shooting (not his fault, by the way). He's definitely a friend and a collaborator, however I've never had any interaction with his new company, Spectrevision. But I understand if you don't trust my opinion on the film because of my association with Elijah. All I can say is I didn't go into the film with an agenda different from any other Sundance movie I've seen. I just want to be entertained.