Horror films are nothing new at Sundance. While they typically wind up in the Midnight category, Life After Beth — a zombie movie — has wedged its way into the U.S. Dramatic. Meanwhile, Cooties — more zombie-esque — fits the bill for the Midnight category, but is nowhere near as watchable. Both throw their jokes with an aimless effort, but neither are particularly memorable as some of the past Midnight entries — Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and both of the V/H/S films.
Life After Beth features Aubrey Plaza as the title character, playing the kind of part she was born to play when she returns from the dead after a snake bite. Beth’s boyfriend Zach (Dane DeHaan) is in mourning over her death, spending his free time staying out till 3 a.m. playing chess with her father, Maury (John C. Reilly). After Beth’s parents start ignoring him, he spies Beth walking through the house, and it turns out that she has either come back as a zombie, or resurrected. Now, Zach has to deal with a new Beth who seems to have incredible strength, a lust in her loins, an affection for jazz, and a boiling hunger, as the zombie apocalypse spreads through town.
DeHaan and Plaza make a nice enough couple, and thankfully, writer/director Jeff Baena runs with his concept to the very end. Reilly and Molly Shannon get the most laughs as Beth’s overprotective parents, while Cheryl Hines and Paul Reiser seem like stunt casting, and poor Anna Kendrick is completely wasted as she’s only in a couple of scenes. The gore effects are kept to a minimum, but it was fun to watch Beth’s slow transformation into a full-blown zombie. It comes off as a cross between World War Z, Warm Bodies, and My Boyfriend’s Back. The gore effects are surprisingly kept to a minimum but are effective whenever something gross finally happens. Considering the cast involved, don’t be surprised to find this one making its way to theaters or at least VOD.
And then there’s Cooties. A movie that has one of the funniest and grossest opening sequences I’ve ever seen, only to be followed up with an abysmal descent into mediocrity and brazen inconsistency. Elijah Wood stars as Clint, a substitute teacher called in to his old elementary school where a rancid chicken nugget has given the students a case of cooties and turned the children into rabid monsters. Trapped inside the school, Clint joins forces with the rest of the teachers — Lucy (Alison Pill), Wade (Rainn Wilson), Doug (Leigh Whannell), Rebekka (Nasim Pedrad), and Tracy (Jack McBrayer) — as they try to make their last stand and escape with their lives.
While there are some amusing, obviously adlibbed lines, writers Whannell (the other half behind the original Saw and both Insidious films) and Ian Brennan (co-creator of Glee and playing the school principal) think every line they’ve written is funnier than it actually is. Some of the cast could have been replaced resulting in a possibly funnier movie. Pill seems like she’s trying to act like Kristen Bell and Wilson’s jealous gym instructor would have been better played by David Koechner.
Sadly, Cooties also drags on when it’s merely only 96 minutes, never a good sign when you’re bored in a comedy. Armed with a few fun visual gags — the grotesque nugget, a ripped off pony tail, intestines used to jump rope, and a severed head in lieu of a tetherball — the dialogue is rarely funny and co-directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion careen their tone from scene to scene. There’s also an underlying mean streak that deflates the fun out of the movie at will. I have been waiting to see this one for what seems like forever, reading about it in the horror news sections online but unfortunately, Cooties is never infectious and should be avoided like the plague.
Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute