Streaming on Tubi; 2.5/5
Elijah Wood, like Daniel Radcliffe, is in a pretty sweet spot in his career. He’s got all the money he’ll ever need, so he can just do things for fun. Like sock a little money into a straight-to-video zombie movie that he can star in (he’s on the list of producers). As a zombie movie, it works passably enough. There are no surprises in the plot or pacing. But there are an awful lot of kids in this movie--a movie that is very much not for kids.
Like any zombie movie, it must answer a critical question: why are there zombies? Zombie movies have always operated as indictments of dystopian societal ills, and Cooties is no exception. It targets processed food (and public schooling more broadly, and depressing Midwestern single-industry factory towns even more broadly). The food in question is a tainted batch of chicken nuggets that gets shipped to an Illinois elementary school’s lunchroom; it’s the kind of place where the kids eat whatever they’re handed with no idea what’s in it. And what’s in it is … kind of gross. The opening credits sequence of the movie tracks the chicken nugget manufacturing process. It might put you off them for good.
The tainted nuggets turn the children of Fort Chicken Elementary into a horde of flesh-eating monsters, with the teachers trapped in the school trying to stave off the horde of little plague-fiends. The teachers are a subversively hilarious pack of trope characters and stereotypes (if you’ve ever dealt with school staff, you’ll know most of these people), but their struggle to survive is where the movie runs into trouble. Ultimately, they’re fighting with children, and that’s hard to get past. I don’t doubt that the kids involved had a blast making the movie (I get to wear icky makeup and growl and scream!) but as the mayhem escalates Cooties inadvertently picks up an oily sheen of child-exploitation. The kids had to be directed and coached to be in a movie where they’re diseased cannibals who get killed by their teachers. Does any kid really need to be exposed to that? I’m not so sure.
2.5 stars of 5: Zombie fans might get into it, but I didn’t like it.