Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)
Directed by: Christopher Landon
Written by: Carrie Lee Wilson, Christopher Landon, Emi Mochizuki, Lona Williams
Starring: Joey Morgan, Logan Miller, Sarah Dumont, Tye Sheridan
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 94 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In a laboratory, a janitor accidentally starts a zombie outbreak. Meanwhile teenagers Ben, Carter and Augie, who along with Scout Leader Rogers comprise the local scout group, are at odds because, though they’ve been scouts since they were little, Ben and Carter are thinking of giving scouting up. Their car hits a deer, which mysteriously disappears, but they then get invited to a party by Carter’s sister Kendall, whom Ben fancies. He and Carter agree to camp in the woods with Augie overnight, but intend to sneak off to the party. However, Rogers is attacked by the re-animated deer, and, as Ben and Carter head off for the party, the streets appear to be strangely empty….
The popularity of zombies has been huge for some time now, so much so that something as poor as World War Z is a huge hit, and it doesn’t seem like it will diminish any time soon. We’ve even now got subgenres like the ‘zom-com’, for God’s sake. The usefulness of the undead as metaphors for a wide variety of things remains, though I can’t be the only one tiring of them just a little. After all, there’s only so much you can actually do with zombies themselves. Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse was originally called Scouts Vs Zombies, which would have been a sljghtly misleading title as there are disappointingly only four scouts in the film. I suppose you could basically call it a cross between Superbad and Zombieland, putting the archetypal ‘lighter’ rather than ‘heavier’ type of zombie outbreak story onto a teen raunch comedy aimed squarely at teenage boys. Its screenplay was in the 2010 Blacklist, the list of the ‘most liked’ unmade scripts of the year, though I found that very hard to believe as I watched the film, though director Christopher Landon apparently rewrote it, seemingly to the movie’s detriment.
Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse isn’t actually terrible, and if you’re a teenage boy you’ll probably find it a lot more entertaining then I did, though it works rather better as a zombie horror film than a comedy. The teen comedy, especially of the sex related kind, to me is one particular type of film that, with a few exceptions, only really works when you are a teenager. I’m not ashamed to admit that I loved Porky’s back in the day, but, on revisiting it many years later, struggled to make my way through the thing and barely laughed at all. Increased age and, I suppose, maturity, just makes films like this come across as boringly one-note and annoyingly crass. To me anyway. Nearly all of the supposed humour in Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse is sex related, with us being asked to chuckle at, say, one of our heroes, fleeing from loads of zombies, rushing back to briefly grope some zombie breast and narrowly escape being eaten. Some gags do actually come off well, my favourite being a bit when another of the kids dangles from a window while clutching onto an elderly zombie’s penis, which stretches and eventually breaks, causing our guy to fall from the window, bounce off a trampoline [in another nice touch, the not-at-all agile zombies are using it to try to get inside a house] and away from the zombie horde, then throwing the severed zombie penis away in disgust, sending it spiralling through the air and into the mouth of another zombie. Yes, I laughed. For the most part though, there’s a mean spiritedness in the supposed chuckles – do we need two scenes of people being sexually assaulted [even if it’s brief] by the undead? And is it good that a film like this, aimed primarily at teenage boys, seems to send the message that to win the girl of your dreams who should just go up to her and plant one on her mouth?
Saying things like Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse left something of a bad taste in my mouth really makes me feel old, and you could say that I’m not the target audience for the film, though I do still enjoy a good zombie flick even if there’s far too many of the things around at the moment. However, the film is also very lazy, especially with regard to its characters who are so boringly generic they may as well have just been called ‘Boy Next Door Type’, ‘Nerd Type’, ‘Horndog Type’, ‘Girl Next Door Type’ , and so forth. And Carter, the kid who just wants to screw everything in sight, is the most annoying teenage character I’ve seen on the screen in years. There’s nothing wrong with showing a person with major faults, but this arrogant arsehole is just unpleasant even though he’s one of the heroes and the writer probably meant us to like him, and if you’re like me then you’ll be cheering on the undead to munch into him. The film’s depressing point of view is summed up in an early scene where our three lads are camped out in the woods. Like half the kids these days, Carter is more interested in his phone than his company and surroundings. When nerdy Augie says something about appreciating nature, Carter flicks a marshmallow at him and films it on his phone while Ben laughs. How funny. We are asked to think of how ‘sad’ Augie is. Then again, the film seems to have something against scouts too, for some reason.
Saying all this, the comic horror side of the film doesn’t come off too badly. The opening scene, despite an excruciating moment when the janitor sings along and dances to some crappy song, works well with a nice variant on a famous scene from the 1982 The Thing, and two genuine laughs, one involving a person being thrown around a room in the background while somebody else goes about his business in a different room in the foreground, and another involving a snack machine that only finally works when the person who’s been trying to use it is dead. Rogers being attacked in the woods by the zombie deer is unusual and uncanny despite featuring too much ‘shakycam’, though a later attack by zombie cats is almost thrown away. There’s a genuine atmosphere to the scenes when our trio ride through the deserted town, and when they enter a strip club we get an effectively creepy bit when they are treated to a show by an undead stripper. They are then joined by a [human] stripper who is adept with a shotgun [Generic Sexy Bad Ass Girl], after which it all becomes about them all going from place to place and fighting off the living dead. The use of ‘shakycam’ and quick editing prevents some of the set pieces from coming across as well as they should [especially a zombie rampage through a rave] though it’s not too bad really and makes Paranormal Activity veteran Landon look like David Lean when compared with, say, Marc Forster’s abysmal work on the afore-mentioned Brad Pitt flick.
The pace never slows while the gore is certainly piled on in a way that would have easily given the film an ‘18’ certificate twenty years ago, even if most of the violence is perpetrated by the humans against the zombies. There are at least two novel ways of killing the undead I’d never seen before, a welcome return for the ‘hole in the chest and back so you can see daylight’ gag probably first seen in Zombie Apocalypse, and a cool bit where we follow a bullet right through the heads of three zombies, the last head exploding spectacularly. The gruesome gags are so plentiful that we don’t really need all the sophomore stuff, though I suppose that the film may have then come across as being a bit pointless without it. There are a few touches of weirdness which aren’t necessary plot wise and can’t really be classed as comedic but add a pleasantly odd feel, like one character’s house showing that the owner was obsessed with Dolly Parton, and a terrific tooling up scene that even got me behind our heroes, if only for a short while. Cinematographer Brandon Trost gives the film an 80’s feel and uses colour extremely vividly in some scenes especially the one taking place in the strip club. This film certainly looks good and never quite bores, even if in the end it doesn’t really do anything new and plays out almost exactly as you expect it to.
Better than I dreaded but not as good as I hoped it to be, Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse doesn’t come anywhere near films like Return Of The Living Dead or Shaun Of The Dead, but is better than much of the crud featuring zombies out there which is deemed worthy of release. It would really have been better if there had been an actual full scouts group around to battle the zombies [considering how many zombie films are coming out, we may get another one soon which actually has lots of scouts, which may then be the definitive picture about scouts battling zombies]. It could have also done with less of the humour, or at least some more jokes that were actually funny and not almost entirely penis or breast related, though if you’re 16 you may disagree. I doubt I’ll bother seeing it again, but there were sections where it passed the time pleasantly enough.