A zombie virus starts tearing apart an elementary school.
Zombies have pretty much always been an ideal monster to work into comedies. On their own, they’re not particularly threatening, as they are usually slow, unintelligent, and, since they come in mobs, can be killed repeatedly on film without really diminishing the overall threat. Even the original modern zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, had two different much more humorous sequels, Return of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Because of this, zombie comedies have been mined heavily over the years, but every so often, a new comedy uses the genre well and makes it hilarious again, ranging from Shaun of the Dead’s satire of modern life to Zombieland’s witty banter mixed with over-the-top zombie kills. Unfortunately, I think it’s the run of great Zombie comedy films that hurt this movie when it came out, because, while it is funny, it’s just not quite as good as some of its competitors. However, that doesn’t mean that you should overlook it, because it has a few elements that set it apart.
Taking place in “Fort Chicken,” Illinois, a fourth-grade student eats a contaminated chicken nugget, and because, let’s be honest, that’s up there on the list of most likely causes of an outbreak, she soon starts to turn feral and develop skin lesions. This is our version of zombie for the film, and rather than Romero shamblers, they’re closer to small 28 Days Later running virus zombies, although at times they have better problem-solving skills. The first student scratches her substitute teacher, Clint (Elijah Wood), who will mostly be our protagonist throughout the film. He’s an aspiring horror writer who has had a crush on the same girl, Lucy McCormick (an underappreciated Alison Pill), since high school. Naturally, she’s dating the gym teacher, Wade, played amazingly well as a supermacho dork by Rainn Wilson. Other people at the school are played by Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Peter Kwong, and Nasim Pedrad as the absolutely hilarious ultra-religious teacher. When all of the children start to become killing machines, it’s assumed that Clint is next… only for it to be revealed that the virus only works on children. The group hides with Calvin (Armani Jackson) and Tamra (Morgan Lily), the only two uninfected kids, and have to find a way to survive the school day.
There are a lot of funny moments in this movie, like how one of the security officers, played by Jorge Garcia, is on shrooms and hallucinates a random giraffe, or how the doctor character seems incapable of remembering to use gloves. The overall premise, having children that are constantly attacking and murdering adults, largely because adults ignore them at first, is pretty great. They do a decent amount of sunshine horror (scenes in bright light) featuring a playground of tiny cannibals, but then also have the traditional low-light scenes in the school. Since most of the kids are around 7-10, they’re all tiny, which makes it kind of inherently hilarious that the adults are terrorized by them. It’s a decent idea.
There are two main problems with this film, though. The first is that they really don’t do much with the set-up during the second and third acts. Aside from the occasional sight-gag, they don’t treat the kid zombies much differently than regular zombies. It also doesn’t really play up a metaphor or anything the way that most zombie movies do, despite the fact that there a lot of prime opportunities. The second problem is that there is a lot of filler humor, where the jokes are there but they’re not blowing your socks off or really adding to the movie. Some of these work, but a lot of them just produce polite chuckles. Sometimes just focusing on the really good gags and playing the rest straight is the way to go. Granted, with so many talented people, even some of the gags that shouldn’t have worked did.
Overall, it’s still a pretty solid comedy, it just has the burden of competing against a really good subclass of film.