It’s a seemingly normal day at a Midwestern small-town elementary school. We follow an eager young substitute teacher named Clint—an aspiring novelist who lives at home with his mother—as he tackles the school day.
First, he has a run-in with a veteran teacher. Then, a smart-mouthed 4th grader snaps at him on the playground. The assistant principal takes away his cellphone, explaining that if students are not permitted to have their phones, neither are teachers.
In his 4th grade classroom, two boys are bullying another student. One of them mocks the substitute and prepares to make the day hell for him.
It’s a rough start for the young teacher. And then, something Clint’s teacher training almost certainly didn’t cover: One of his students turns into a zombie and begins attacking the other students.
Did I mention that this is not yet another earnest education documentary?
This is “Cooties,” a 90-minute horror movie opening Friday about what happens when a cafeteria food virus (arriving through that staple of the lunch line, chicken nuggets) turns the elementary school children into killer zombies.
The ragtag faculty of Fort Chicken Elementary School has to ward off the little monsters and try to save themselves. It turns out that those who have reached puberty are immune to getting the virus themselves, though the adults and a couple of older elementary students who fit that post-pubescent category can still be ripped to pieces by young zombies.
The script was co-written by Leigh Wannell (the co-creator of “Saw”) and Ian Brennan (the co-creator of “Glee”). It is full of genuinely funny moments, especially around the teachers lounge.
Elijah Wood (“Lord of the Rings”) is a producer of “Cooties” through his Glacier Films. He’s also the star as the substitute teacher. (Wood told the ladies of “The View” on Thursday that he didn’t want to appear in one of his production company’s films, but he was talked into it.)
“So, one of my students tried to eat another kid’s face off. How’s your day going?” Clint says to another teacher, his romantic interest, Lucy (Allison Pill of “Milk” and “Midnight in Paris”).
When the zombie kids close in on the teachers lounge, one staff member tells his colleagues, “Follow me, I do CrossFit!” He walks out a door and is quickly killed.
The best part is the cast, a fairly high-wattage list of recent TV series stars who must have liked the script, or had time on their schedules. Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) is basically Dwight Schrute as a gym teacher. Jorge Garcia (Hurley on “Lost”) is a mushroom-ingesting school security guard. Jack McBrayer (Kenneth the page on “30 Rock”) and Nasim Pedrad (“Saturday Night Live,” “The Lorax”) round out the teaching corps at Fort Chicken Elementary.
The film is not for everyone. It is rated R, for language and violence. Besides being a spoof of various school trends, it does have a fair amount of horror-film gore and violence, including some uncomfortable scenes involving teachers killing some of the zombie children.
But “Cooties” doesn’t take itself too seriously. As I said, it’s not a documentary.
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Coincidentally, there is another education-related horror movie opening Friday. “Some Kind of Hate” is about a bullied teen who gets help in battling his tormentors from a ghost of a another teenager who had been driven to suicide by bullying. I was going to review the film as a kind of a school horror double bill with “Cooties.” But a promised screener never arrived. The Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter offer their takes on the film.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.