[Editor’s Note: Our resident theatrical review correspondent Joey K. was on vacation. So, please pardon the tardiness of this review]
Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse really wants to be The Return Of The Living Dead. It really wants to be Shaun Of The Dead. Hell, it would love to even be mentioned in the same sentence as Cockneys Vs Zombies or Dead Snow. This movie is so consumed with trying to be every other zombie movie imaginable, it forgets to forge its own path. The result is a confusing muddle of bromance, ill-judged laddish humour and many zombie references but not nearly enough tussles with the living dead.
Our heroes are Ben, Carter and Augie, which must be short for Augustine (how middle class!) but who knows, three teenage scouts who, you’ve guessed it, find themselves tasked with saving the town from a zombie outbreak. Augie is still very much into being a scout, but his buddies are more interested in chasing girls and preparing to be the men they’re about to become when they begin their junior year. Over the course of one fateful night, with the walking dead baying for the blood of the lads, along with their friends and family, they’ll soon learn what’s really important.
What’s immediately striking about a film called Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse is how shockingly saccharine and wholesome it is. In the US, the flick has been gifted a hard R but it’s a 15A in the UK and it’s easy to see why. There isn’t much in the way of nudity, gore or swearing here, in spite of just how much this movie has been envisioned as some sort of Superbad/Dead Snow hybrid. With a name like Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, we expect low-brow humour, balls-to-the-wall crazy splatter and questionable treatment of female characters.
Instead, the film is often downright heart-warming, the core message being to stick by your friends no matter what, even if it means looking like a bit of a nerd to everyone else. This, we learn, will result in you getting the girl, saving the day, and ultimately coming out on top (these aren’t spoilers, by the way, as that title can be taken pretty literally). A nifty scouts’ how-to guide is utilised when the s**t really hits the fan, almost as an advertisement for this most geeky of pursuits. If anything else about the movie worked, these elements would seem well-judged, even clever.
Instead, Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse is a mish-mash of half-baked ideas, most of which are stolen from other, far superior movies, that never quite hits the mark either as a horror movie or as a comedy. It’s no surprise the script is credited to four(!) screenwriters, including the director, Stephen Landon, who notched up several writing credits on sub-par Paranormal Activity sequels before helming the curious Marked Ones himself. There’s nothing original here; the cold open features Workaholics‘ Blake Anderson in a thankless cameo and nods to The Thing and The Crazies, among others, and it just gets worse from there.
It’s a shame because the trio at the heart of it all, played by newcomers Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joey Morgan, are terrific and have an easy rapport that suggests a lifetime of friendship. Superbad was an obvious influence, with the three boys clearly envisioned as successors to the thrones of Seth, Evan and Fogell. Here, however, it’s skinny nerd Carter (Miller) who plays the Jonah Hill character, prattling on about getting laid and taking a selfie with the exposed breasts of a recently-turned female police officer, in the film’s most stomach-churning moment, among other hi-larious indiscretions.
Much like Hill’s Seth, Carter eventually becomes a likeable character in his own right, especially when he realises that he’s not that much higher up the food chain than his buddies and needs them to survive not just the zombie outbreak, but the perils of high school, too. The ladies fare less well as glorified eye candy for the boys. Halston Sage is given particularly short shrift, playing basically the same, one-dimensional hot-girl-in-distress character she did in movies like Neighbors, Goosebumps and Paper Towns. But next to Sarah Dumont’s cocktail waitress-not a stripper-Denise she gets off easy. Hell, at least Sage gets to wear a dress for most of the movie.
When we first meet Denise, the camera is leering up her short shorts and it sticks remarkably close to this area of her anatomy most of the time she’s on screen, taking short breaks only to remind us that she also has breasts we might want to be looking at. Add to this the fact she’s, confusingly, been dressed in a white tank top with a sky blue bra underneath (matched to her garish eye-shadow that never smudges, no matter how many scrapes she gets into) and the effect is pretty staggering. Dumont does the best she can with her first leading role but it’s not as though Denise is a meaty character.
At one point, one of the lads tells her he hopes she finds someone who’s good enough for her. It should be a sweet moment, but it feels misplaced given how, earlier on in the night, she’s volunteered herself to teach one of them how to kiss because she caught him looking at her butt before. The message is clear: be a leering a-hole and you shall be rewarded. Case in point, Carter taking a selfie with some poor, diseased woman’s breasts, which, even worse, is played for laughs, as is a sequence in the strip club where Denise works that, if you’ve seen the trailer, has already been spoiled for you (no great loss there).
Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse isn’t even good enough to be properly offensive, though. It’s hard to be outraged at something that is barely even trying to do anything at all besides exist. The funniest joke in this horror-comedy is the name of the strip club in which Denise works, or maybe a gag with a zombie cat that, again, features in the trailer. There are no scary moments whatsoever. None. Anchorman‘s David Koechner features in a running joke that is ripped directly from Dead Snow 2, where it was, of course, done better. The gore is perfunctory and unoriginal. We know the scouts are going to survive so there’s no peril or conflict.
If anything, this movie would’ve worked better as a straight re-tread of the Superbad formula. It still wouldn’t have been very good, but at least we could’ve avoided the cheapness of its half-hearted horror elements. Shaun Of The Dead, Zombieland, et al worked so well because they were crafted by people who loved zombie movies, who understood how jokes and scares are formulated. In spite of a winning young cast and an interesting premise, Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse is neither scary enough to be a horror movie nor funny enough to be a comedy. It just is, and it doesn’t seem to have any further aspirations otherwise.
WICKED RATING: [usr 3]
Director(s): Christopher Landon
Writer(s): Carrie Lee Wilson, Emi Mochizuki, Christopher Landon, Lona Williams
Stars: Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan, Sarah Dumont
Studio/ Production Co: Broken Road Pictures
Length: 93 minutes
Sub-Genre: Zombies, comedy