Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is completely uneven but guilty fun – a horror film sendup that will cull as many haters as cult followers.
For nearly a decade, high school sophomores Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller), and Augie (Joey Morgan) have remained dedicated to their local Boy Scouts of America chapter. Years later, and the only remaining members of their troop, the three friends continue scouting under the supervision of Scout Leader Rogers (David Koechner); however, despite fond memories, Ben and Carter are ready to move-on, while Augie remains devoted to the Boy Scouts in honor of his deceased father – the troop’s original leader.
On the night Augie is set to receive the troop’s top honor, the Condor Badge (read: an unlicensed/fictional cypher for Eagle rank), Scout Leader Rogers is a no-show – so Ben and Carter plot to sneak away from camp to attend a senior party while Augie sleeps. However, before the boys can make it to the party, Ben and Carter discover their town has been overrun by a viral outbreak that has turned neighbors, friends, and local wildlife into blood-thirsty zombies. Armed with Scout Law and kick-butt cocktail waitress acquaintance Denise (Sarah Dumont), Ben, Carter, and Augie must set aside their personal differences, and feelings about scouting, in order to save their town.
Even with its pro-scouting message, it should come as no surprise that Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse has not been endorsed by the eponymous youth organization – likely because director Christopher B. Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) uses the scouts and zombies premise to tell one of 2015’s most offensive and violent films. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is unapologetic in wearing vulgarity, carnage, and all around mean-spirited antics as a badge of honor – and yet, the film also includes a steady stream of genuinely funny and fresh comedy moments.
Moviegoers looking for anything more than familiar zombie gore, toilet humor, and high school character clichés will find little value in Landon’s movie but, for viewers who are willing to embrace the inanity, and accept the experience on its own terms, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is a pretty entertaining subversion of modern zombocalypse movie culture. The story, characters, and dialogue are all outlines of situations and people that moviegoers will have seen depicted in far better zombie films – shepherded by the filmmaker’s uneven comedic hand. Any amusing zombie movie sendups are pulled down by juvenile dick jokes, sexual objectification, and bland character arcs peppered throughout.
One minute, Landon choreographs a clever set piece that makes smart (and stylish) use of scout versus zombie encounters; the next, a central character is rattling off sexist and disparaging remarks about women. In more stable hands Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse could have offered the quality genre satire that makes films like Tucker and Dale Versus Evil as well as The Cabin in The Hoods hits among cinephiles – even when mainstream moviegoers weren’t universally sold (regardless of positive reviews).
Most of the film’s biggest eye-rolls and excessive dialogue belong to Logan Miller’s sex-obsessed slacker Carter. Whereas prior movie jerks like American Pie‘s Stifler or Superbad‘s Seth earned their place with genuinely memorable comedy hijinks, Carter is little more than an uninspired appeal to cheap laughs. That said, Miller does his best with the role and, as the friends come back together, the actor (as well as Landon) succeed in selling Carter’s earnest attempts at redemption.
Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) stars as Ben – playing straight and honorable to Miller’s self-centered Carter. Sheridan, along with his co-stars, is keenly aware that his character is a riff on similarly reluctant heroes in the horror genre, and the actor makes knowing use of the caricature. It’s not a particularly challenging role, especially compared to Sheridan’s prior filmography, but he provides a likable stand-in for the Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse audience.
Fortunately, Joey Morgan and Sarah Dumont are scene-stealers – and its no coincidence that many of Landon’s best work puts Augie or Denise at center stage. Whereas Carter is representative of Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’s laziness, Augie and Denise make it apparent that there is a creative (and nuanced) spark buried in Landon’s spoof – even if it’s little more than a platform for a few talented actors.
Landon’s zombies don’t stray too far from standard ankle draggers but the filmmaker comes up with some zany, and downright comical, undead set pieces. These scenes would be out of place in a more grounded zombie movie but, given that Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse aims for a horror-comedy sweet spot, there are several inventive moments that will have audiences laughing – even if the larger film misses that mark just as often. Lore-hounds won’t get much exposition to explain origins of the Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse nor does the filmmaker clarify how this virus differs from other outbreaks within the genre; but in return, viewers get to witness zombies engaged in bizarrely fun scenarios that have never been seen before on film.
Ultimately, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is completely uneven but guilty fun – a horror film sendup that will cull as many haters as cult followers. Most viewers will find Landon’s film to be an off-putting imitation of far superior zombie genre installments; still, even though it won’t be for everyone, moviegoers that land within the director’s target audience should get plenty of laughs (and maybe even a few jump scares) in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse runs 93 minutes and is Rated R for zombie violence and gore, sexual material, graphic nudity, and language throughout. Now playing in theaters.
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