Comedy and horror are completely different creatures, but sometimes, when handled with care, you make them complementary. At the moment of a scare, your body releases a rush of adrenaline, causing you to be extra alert. Then, after you realized the thing that scared you was just a plastic bag or jumping animal, the typical reaction is to laugh in relief. Cooties causes all kinds of involuntary body reactions, like disgust, eye-rolling, and the occasional yawn. Unfortunately, there is no relief to be had.
If you thought the grotesquerie of the opening 5 minutes and its PETA-inspired animal brutality montage was tough to stomach, wait until you see the cast flounder as they try to deliver laughs. Now that is tougher to watch than anything else in the film. Co-creator of Glee Ian Brennan and Saw/Insidious helmer Leigh Whannell co-wrote this film into a perfect blend of both of their writing styles. Unfortunately, like dog breeding, the mixing of elements can come out looking cute, but once you get past that there is little redeemable. The gore, the kills and the brutality are undeniably Whannell, which leaves Brennan contributing to the cheesy writing and idea of having this take place in a school.
If the infected children periodically and inexplicably broke out into ironic musical numbers, like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or The Cranberries “Zombie”, I probably would have enjoyed it much more. As it stands, the entire film felt listless and lifeless, shambling its way from beginning to end. The problem with horror/comedy hybrids is that they can easily be too much of one and not the other. It takes the perfect mixture for the film to flow cohesively and play off of each other. There are a total of two semi-effective jokes in Cooties. One involves a meta reference to Lord of the Rings done by Elijah Wood. The other feels like every comedic energy in the film was concentrated to build up a joke about a cock (chicken) in a mouth. Truly riveting stuff.
The talented cast, comprised mainly of television actors, really try their best to make this film work with what they were given. Part of the scenes seemed scripted while others seem like they were completely improvised. Improv humor only works if the actors have had experience in it, which maybe half of the cast hasn’t. The jokes fall flat or come off as too obvious to even inspire a chuckle. You can’t really blame the cast, but you can blame the lack of direction they received. First-time directors Jonathan Millot and Cary Murnion may have bitten off more than they could chew in this cannibalistic feature. Their concept of horror is that of the misguided masses who think that adding large amounts of gore and carnage (and a few other bodily fluids) into a scene is enough to provoke a scare. The only thing it inspires is an occasional yawn and a sympathetic snicker.
Cooties had an idea that could have been fleshed out into an uproarious flesh-eating comedy. You wait the entire film for some glimpse of salvation in the narrative or even the character development, but only once does it actually deliver in the form of an expected hobbit joke. Outside of that, it never arrives, but what you get instead is a fever-pitch of tropes that are all dead on arrival.
RATING: ★★★ (3/10 stars)