Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Elijah Wood’s Film 'Cooties' Mirrors 'The Faculty' For a Grown Up Generation

As I watched Cooties, the latest offering from Elijah Wood’s genre production company, SpectreVision, I couldn’t help but think this is exactly the kind of movie Casey Connor would grow up to be in.

If you don’t recall, Casey was the nerdy kid full of conspiracy theories in the 1998 teen sci-fi-horror The Faculty, a movie in which aliens take over the bodies of the teachers in a small Ohio town where football reigns king, to the detriment of every other department and the social landscape of the school. Played by a meek Elijah Wood, Casey was a Classic Geek™ in the manner of so many 90s movies: upon arriving at school in the morning, he’s immediately slammed in the face by a careless elbow, an accident for which he apologizes. Soon after, we see him get picked up by a bunch of jocks (of course) and slammed crotch-first into the flagpole. We’re led to imagine this is how all of Casey’s days began, and unfortunately, if Cooties is to be believed, things didn’t get much better for him after high school.

The Faculty
In Cooties, Elijah Wood is once again playing the geeky guy, albeit a slightly better off one. He’s not getting slammed into any flagpoles, but as a failed writer living in his parents’ house and subbing at the local elementary school, he’s still trying to get the cool kids to like him. In fact, he’s only working at Ft. Chicken Elementary School in the hopes of catching the eye of an old crush, Lucy McCormick (Allison Pill). It may not literally be high school, but all the old stereotypes are present, the characters just inhabit adult bodies this time around.

Pretend the ending of The Faculty never happened; it was all wish fulfillment anyway. Even if power-hungry Delilah had coupled up with Casey during his fifteen minutes of fame, we know she would have eventually dropped him for the next big thing. Now imagine all of those kids became elementary school teachers. Delilah has grown into Rebekkah (Nasim Pedrad), a dogmatic Republican who belligerently spouts rhetoric about gun laws (they’re too stringent) and evolution (it’s bunk, not that the school board will let her say that). Zeke is still the weird guy who knows way too much about the current epidemic plaguing the school, he just goes by “Doug” now (Leigh Whannell). Lucy is an adult version of Marybeth Louise Hutchinson, all smiles and tight-lipped optimism, assuming that whole alien queen thing never happened. The gym teacher is still the gym teacher.

Wood’s character is once again battling monsters that seem from another realm entirely – in this case, all of the prepubescent students are afflicted with “cooties,” a zombie-like hunger for flesh brought on by bad chicken nuggets. The only difference between now and then is that, while Wood was once the child seeing a hidden monster in adults, he is now the adult finding children monstrous. Even before the outbreak occurs, Wood’s character laments his students’ generation, which he finds foreign and almost savage. He’s not necessarily wrong, either; there’s a child named “Patriot” in his first class, “born on September 11th, a gift from God” who plans on joining the army so he can kill as many (insert racial slurs here) as possible.

But Cooties doesn’t shy away from skewering its own cohorts, either. There’s the aforementioned gun toting, “rape button” sporting Rebekkah, a mess of contradictions who wouldn’t be out of place at a Donald Trump rally. There’s also a teacher who hilariously shouts “Follow me, I do Crossfit!” before meeting his abrupt demise. Even Clint, our protagonist, is a millennial cliché – the failed artist sponging off his parents. Furthermore, the contemptuous disconnect between the teachers and students inherently puts some of the blame on the older generation for not doing better by the younger one.

As in The Faculty, the generations are at odds, unable to understand or even fathom one another. More importantly, wherever we find ourselves in life, and sometimes contrary to the evidence, we consider it the “right” side of the generation gap – a side that we strongly believe our parents or children couldn’t begin to comprehend. When loner Stokely said in The Faculty, “I thought I was the only alien in this school,” she could just have easily have been talking to one of the oddball coworkers in Cooties.

It’s a brilliant role reversal, and one that speaks deeply to Americans of all ages. Take the political and social climate for example: older generations like the baby boomers have twice as many conservatives as millennials, the most liberal age group. With our widespread acceptance of homosexuality, women’s bodily rights, and marijuana as a recreational drug, we millennials most likely seem a pestilence to older Republicans, and even many Democrats of advanced age. And it goes both ways – millennials consider older generations’ stances on issues like environmental regulations and immigration reform outdated, shortsighted, and harmful. Essentially, we're all aliens to one another.

The Faculty
However, unlike in The Faculty, where killing the queen alien brought resolution by allowing everyone to return to their normal human selves, the only solution in Cooties is to burn the entire school down, taking most of its young students with it. I sincerely hope that “burning it all down” is not the only prescription for our nation.

But as each of us gets older and grumpier, more disillusioned, I think we all feel that inclination to watch the world burn from time to time – even if history has shown that, by and large, the kids are alright. It’s a reminder that, as always, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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