Horror cinema has seen its fair share of sinister pandemics and possessions take over everywhere from the rickety old cabin in the words to the state of the art shopping mall. However, in the shape of Cooties, that sacred space of adolescent joys and pains, the school, now finds itself taking centre stage. The result is a tongue-in-cheek take on the zombie film, rife with reference and defined by a charming deftness of humour that is both its greatest strength and weakness.

When a viral infection spreads through a small town school, turning the children into frenzied, murderous savages, the remaining teachers must band together and set aside their differences in order to survive their baby faced students and make it to home time…alive. Obviously, the concept is utterly ludicrous, but it embraces this spirit of the ridiculous so completely that you can’t help but fall for the charm of the film. In playing on established conventions of the zombie genre but adding an almost comic book style excess of comedy and visual overload, using a broad palette of primary colours, the filmmakers create a vibrant edge that reflects the insanity of the scenario and the skittish, cartoonish humour. It’s a choice that works well for establishing the tone of the film early and immersing the audience in the world at play. Cooties undoubtedly stands as tribute to 70’s and 80’s genre cinema, directly referencing films such as Dawn of the Dead, Class of Nuke Em High, Christine, Die Hard and Commando; the love for this style of film runs directly through the core of Cooties and imbues it with an energy and enthusiasm that is, if you excuse the pun…infectious.

In terms of establishing this particular brand of humour, the cast that the filmmakers have managed to assemble is crucial, and undoubtedly one of the highlights of the whole experience. Elijah Wood excels as the everyman at the centre of the film, Clint, a man with big dreams of a future who finds himself stuck in his own past. Rather than make him completely likable, there are moments where Wood plays up a selfish, bitter streak to the character, that only makes him feel more rounded and relatable in the situation he has now found himself in. The other standout is the ever entertaining Rainn Wilson as Clint’s rival, Wade, a figure who stands as the polar opposite to Clint’s timid intellectual. As such he is positioned as something of a villain of the piece within the group; but remarkably, as things deteriorate, it can be argued that Wade, in spite of his macho persona, becomes the real hero of the film, revealing more shades to himself and his true feelings beneath the bravado. It’s a performance that could have been completely excessive, but it reveals the intelligence of the writing and the confidence of performance that runs through the whole film. Although I have focused on these two actors, the whole cast works so well as a collective, with the likes of Alison Pill, Leigh Whannell and Jack McBryer bringing so much personality to proceedings, as the dialogue bounces between them with such verve and natural wit, that the relationships feel genuine and thoroughly satisfying.

If the film does suffer in any particular area, it could be argued that the humour stays on a singular level, rather than evolve, as the film develops. The same jokes and character traits are constantly played upon to the point where the film starts to feel almost recycled and loses any bite. Luckily the endearing nature of the characterisation and the honesty at the heart of film is pure enough to drive through this issue but it still becomes wearing at times when it could have shifted in different interesting directions. Also, for me personally, the film never pushes the horror far enough. The rare splatter gore moments are played purely for laughs rather than to genuinely shock, and as a result, lacks a tension between real horror and comedy that is the hallmark of the great genre hybrids.

Ultimately, Cooties is a love letter to a different age of cinema: playful, wry and charming, it channels the exploitation sensibilities of 70’s horror cinema but through the lens of a modern self-referential humour. It’s a fun throwback that might not be perfect, but with a superb cast on great form and clear identity, it’s an entertaining experience that definitely passes the grade.

DVD Review: Cooties
3.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk