Friday 18 December 2015

Cooties (2015) - Movie Review
This is most certainly a team-up that, even in my weirdest pot dreams, I wouldn’t have been able to foresee. On one hand, you have Leigh Whannell, best known for his collaborations with James Wan on the Saw and Insidious series. On the other, you have Ian Brennan, best known for being the brainchild of the thankfully recently-concluded TV migraine Glee. Except for a possible connection involving people screaming in terror, I can’t even think of a comparative duo to explain just how strange this is. The fact that this is yet another zombie film seems like an afterthought by comparison. Well, in the spirit of goodwill and the fact that I really hope Whannell is at least capable of keeping up with his cinematic brother’s success, it’s time to delve into today’s rather strange production that just happens to feature a lot of dead children. Yeah.

The plot: Substitute teacher/amateur horror writer Clint (Elijah Wood) returns to his old home of Fort Chicken to teach at the local elementary school. As he reconnects with his high school crush Lucy (Allison Pill) and tries not to connect with the fist of her current boyfriend Wade (Rainn Wilson), something strange is happening on the playground: The students becoming ravenously violent. In the midst of the children killing and eating every adult they can find, Clint and the rest of the surviving faculty have to find a way out of the school before they become recess.

The cast is half comprised of actors who can work with the material they’re given, while the other half seriously struggled with it. Pill gets only one real moment where her veneer gets to snap and she can have some fun, otherwise she’s just playing an overly PC teacher and not a particularly entertaining one at that. Nasim Pedrad is the polar opposite, being a strawman conservative that would exist somewhere in a Bizarro version of God’s Not Dead and is performed about as subtly. And speaking of stereotypes, Jack McBrayer is seriously trying to make his flaming caricature work, and admittedly he gets a decent scene of zombie asskickery, but otherwise it’s pretty much one flamboyancy point higher than his performance on 30 Rock, only less funny.

On the other side of the fence, Wilson is a little obnoxious with just how genre-savvy he is, but he also manages a decent character arc throughout the film which smooths him out. Wood is a great straight man for this cast, managing to keep his dignity even after a rather unfortunate medical emergency. Yes, it involves poop. But, without a doubt in my mind, the best part of this cast and overall best thing about this movie is Leigh Whannell as Doug. Whannell seems to have followed his previous example in the original Saw and given himself the best lines, which he pulls off with laser precision. He even makes the sub-par lines sound funny with the crazed delivery he gives them; him explaining about how he knows about neuroscience is still giving me belly laughs as I write this. Certainly does a better job than Ian Brennan as the Vice Principal, who thankfully dies very early on.

While the idea of zombie children has been done before, there is a very solid foundation for how it is accomplished in this film. Now, children themselves can be scary in that sense of having to deal with extremely young ones for too long can be rather daunting. Zombies used to be scary because of the enduring threat they posed, either in a slow herd or fast-paced on their own. This film, for as goofy as it gets, is legitimately creepy at times. Part of that is from how the zombies themselves are portrayed, which emphasises the adage “feral children”, and part of that comes from how much is shown. Sure, we get gory and limbs being torn apart (in rather cheaply realised fashion, at times), but the film pulls back when it’s needed and avoids becoming obnoxiously overblown.

Take, for example, the scene where one of the kids tackles a woman (who literally only exists to be killed off, the film admits it) into a cabinet. We don’t see what goes on, but we still get the point. This is all assisted by a truly chilling soundtrack provided by Belgian plunderphonics producer Kreng. His use of seemingly innocent rhythms associated with children’s songs and twisting them into dark majesty is simply amazing. This film even managed to make a scare involving Pop Goes The Weasel actually work; after Deliver Us From Evil tried (and failed) twice to do that, I’m genuinely shocked that it was even possible. But, through a combination of a well-done warping of the tune and great staging, it even made the inevitable jump scare feel right.

The comedic writing for this is a mixed bag, which makes sense when you have one genuinely good writer and one that’s not-so-good. The punchlines can get extremely cheesy at times, like an in-joke about Elijah Wood being in the Lords Of The Rings movies, and the stereotyping can get really grating. That said, sometimes its self-aware cheesiness can bend back around and become awesome again. It actually got to the point where, when I noticed an Easter egg in the form of the Cooties poster being used in-film, it would have perfect sense for them to have gone into a cinema and find the film they’re in to be playing. Not to say that that wouldn’t have a cop-out if they ultimately went that route, just that it would have fit the tone of the production. It makes a couple of jabs at the tropes of the genre, but it takes a refreshingly straight approach to it.

I say “refreshingly” because, after dealing with a lot of revisionist zombie fiction, self-awareness is starting to get just as tired as the zombies themselves. It gives a decent origin for the virus, how it works, even offering some subtle reasoning for the more intelligent zombies that usually just get ignored in other films. It also provides some piecemeal commentary on how difficult it is for teachers to deal with these little terrors even when they’re ‘normal’, not to mention how little parents seem to pay attention to them, but much like last time, the commentary is pretty much the last reason to watch a film like this. The ending would be the second last, which is rushed to the point of giving the impression that they just ran out of time and/or budget to make a real conclusion.

All in all, for all its faults, this is more entertaining than it has any right being. Its approach to the zombie apocalypse serves up some interesting ideas, the writing delivers both some really good comedy and even some unexpectedly tense moments and Leigh Whannell makes for another runner for best character of the year. This still comes with the stipulation that it requires you not to be completely bored with zombies yet, but the use of child zombies might just win some viewers over.

No comments:

Post a Comment