Children are often a protected species in horror, so the central concept of Cooties – teachers fight back against their infected pupils – is an enticing one.
It’s a shame, then, that it takes so long for the film to throw its taboo-busting punches, meaning most will already be waiting for the school bell.
On his first day back at his former school as a substitute teacher, struggling writer Clint (Elijah Wood) finds that his timing couldn’t be any worse. His childhood crush Lucy (Alison Pill) has shacked up with angry gym teacher Wade (Rainn Wilson), and a tainted chicken nugget has found its way into the school’s cafeteria, leading to all pre-pubescent students becoming a bit bitey.
The teachers soon find themselves trapped, and it’s up to Clint to band everyone together to make sure they survive the outbreak.
It’s notoriously tricky for a horror-comedy to succeed on both fronts, but the biggest issue for Cooties is that it fails to do either aspect particularly well.
There’s no accumulated tension, as you never feel the teachers are in danger, despite being outnumbered, and the film’s attempts at humour are often lazy and broad – co-writer Leigh Whannell in particular is lumbered with a painful comic relief character as a nerdy science teacher.
Unfortunately, this laziness extends to what should have been the film’s saving grace: killing the children.
One delicious pay-off aside involving a car ornament, there is little invention in its gore, with the children often dispatched briefly and repetitively; when you’ve seen one baseball strike
to the head, you’ve seen them all.
Perhaps as a result of budgetary constraints (the film’s ending was reshot when Lionsgate backed the film with extra finance), most of the climactic sequences are also dimly lit and rapidly shot, which compounds the issue.
There are flashes of inspiration where the film briefly comes to life that give you a sense of what might have been, yet however infectious the concept is, it turns out that Cooties isn’t that hard to shake off.
Check out our interview with Elijah Wood here.