Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

Always Bring Protection

With contemporary audiences so accustomed to witnessing hordes of the living dead snack on human flesh — where seeing someone getting their throat torn out has literally become the weekly norm, particularly for those who settle in to watch the latest episode of AMC’s cable television sensation The Walking Dead (2010) — how does one make a zombie movie that genuinely stands out in this oversaturated market?

Killing zombies requires serious dead-ication!
Killing zombies requires serious dead-ication!

Well writer-filmmaker Christopher Landon (best known for his work on the Paranormal Activity franchise), has found a solution. Combine the zombie mythos with that of a raunchy teen sex comedy; the result, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, an outrageous, off-the-wall hybrid of genres, acknowledging both their origins and characteristics while simultaneously pushing boundaries and audience expectations in clever and satirical ways. If puerile comedy and extreme violence are up your alley, then this tongue-in-cheek mishmash of styles is certainly for you, as Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse — a film that refuses to take it self seriously — contains bucket loads of blood and gore, enough to satisfy the horror junkie, and the right amount of gross-out gags to rival even those boundary-pushing American Pie (1999) flicks.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse tells the story of three friends, Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan), who find themselves at a crossroads — about to mature from boys to men as they enter their high school junior year. Campfires, going to senior parties, and girls are pretty much all they think about — but hey, they’re at that stage of life. For seven years now, this threesome have shared a unique bond, being tied together as scouts, this common thread forming the basis of their companionship. But Ben and Carter feel that the time is right to ‘move on,’ as association with scouts has led to a serious lack of ‘coolness’ on their part, with the boys being mocked and ridiculed by their peers, chiefly douche-bag Jeff (Patrick Schwarzenegger in his big-screen debut) who happens to be dating Carter’s sister Kendall (Halston Sage), whom Ben has had a longstanding crush over, and then there’s their ditsy friend Chloe (Niki Koss), a regular tag-along along.

It's time for the jailhouse rot!
It’s time for the jailhouse rot!

In an attempt to spare Augie’s feelings — believing that the trio will remain, as the motto suggests, ‘scouts for life’ — Ben and Carter decide that they’ll have one final camp-out with Augie, to celebrate his achievement of receiving the Condor Patch (the highest badge a scout can earn) before letting him know that they’re leaving scouts for good. However, prompted by Jeff and Kendall, after running into the couple when Ben accidentally hits a deer on the highway, Ben and Carter are invited to their first ever shindig, a ‘Secret Seniors Party,’ which happens to fall on the exact same night as the campfire, leading Ben and Carter to sneak away — a decision they’ve laboriously mulled over — after the scout festivities have come to a close. Though, as the two are about to quietly slip away, with Augie assumed fast asleep, he confronts the pair and the boy’s true feelings are made public.

Ditching Augie — leaving their friendship on a sour note — the duo set out to find this ‘covert’ gathering — though Ben has second thoughts about abandoning his comrade out in the mountains. While en route to their location (being handed its undisclosed address by Jeff) the lads begin to notice some abnormalities in and around the completely deserted town. Still, the two make a pit stop at the convenience store and, much to Carter’s delight, discover that the bouncer at the nearby strip joint is mysteriously missing. With its door literally left wide open, Carter and Ben get a lot more than a lap dance when they enter, coming face to face with a stripper zombie; luckily the sexy shotgun wheedling Denise (Sarah Dumont), a cocktail waitress who happens to work at the club, rescues the boys just in the nick of time. Now, befriending this smokin’ hot bombshell, the scouts, plus Augie — whom they eventually bump into — set out on a mission to reach the ‘Secret Seniors Party’ and save Kendall before the government decides to blast the zombie infested town to smithereens.

'I'll hit you with my best shot!'
‘I’ll hit you with my best shot!’

Where Jesse Eisenberg’s checklist in Zombieland (2009) had most zombie survival tactics covered, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse can add another dozy to the list; singing a Britney Spears song to a member of the undead — that’ll back it off for sure. While some of the sets ups and jokes clearly border on going beyond what’s considered good taste — a specific scene comes to mind, where one of our heroes dangles for dear life using zombie genitalia as his lifeline, or another where a beastie ‘goes down’ on a young girl — the film craftily finds a way to balance juvenile humor and gratuitous violence with an earnest, deftly woven coming-of-age storyline about friendship and adolescent rites of passage.

With a complete lack of sensitivity towards humans, animals and zombies all in equal measure, co-writer-director Christopher Landon, along with the guys who penned College Road Trip (2008), Emi Mochizuki and Carrie Lee Wilson, demonstrate a good sense of the absurd given their kitchen-sink approach to Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse; we have zombie cats, zombie roadkill and we’re even given one-time Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show (1971), as a toothless zombie grandmother, Miss Fielder. Alas, even with its ingenuity and cheesiness the scouts, along with the film’s nutty premise, aren’t fully utilized. Bar the flick’s climactic splatterfest, where our heroes go charging into battle armed with an assortment of weird and wonderful handmade weaponry (including a Braindead-esque whipper-snipper), these ‘trained adventurers’ don’t really make good use of their outdoorsy skills or abilities; disappointing really, considering Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse attempts to prove that a movement regarded as outdated and obsolete may still have what it takes to potentially save the day.

Being in a teenage girl's room has never been so scary.
Being in a teenage girl’s room has never been so scary.

Populating the screen with attractive and likeable leads, who exhibit the usual teen hang-ups, and slow-moving zombies, which are laid to rest in a number of inventive ways, Christopher Landon, has slapped together a slick and gutsy (in more ways than one) treat — honestly, after his not-so-great work on Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014), this movie is a lot more enjoyable and competent than it should have been.

Likewise, the film’s solid cast also give it their all, embracing the narrative’s cheery irreverence. While the hapless boy scouts are archetypical by design — we have the bashful virgin Ben, played by a good-natured Tye Sheridan, Mud (2012), the sex-crazed Carter, Logan Miller from television’s I’m in the Band (2009) reveling in the character’s naughty jest, and the overweight nerd Augie, played to a tee by relative newcomer Joey Morgan — the lads have natural chemistry and bring a sense of charm and authenticity to their respective roles; it helps that the guys pretending to be teens are actually close in age to their on-screen counterparts. Next up, a perfectly cast Sarah Dumont, Don Jon (2013), oozes with sex appeal as the bad-ass barmaid Denise while Halston Sage, Paper Towns (2015), brings a sugary sweetness to Kendall Grant, Carter’s sister and the flick’s main love interest. Lastly, comedian David Koechner, Cheap Thrills (2013), supplies some of the pic’s laughs as Scout Leader Rogers, whose zombification leads to several amusing moments, mainly a scene in which Augie faces off against the veteran scout in his Dolly Parton decorated home.

Zombie cats ... you've got to be kitten me!
Zombie cats … you’ve got to be kitten me!

In the end, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse may be a tad too ‘immature’ for those hardcore horror buffs but teenage boys will eat up the slow-mo breast shots, over-the-top carnage and the film’s sheer audaciousness. For everyone else, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is a gleefully offensive fun time — one that tries to shake up the well-trodden zombie formula — though that’s if you’re willing to surrender and just accept the absurdity on display. So with the full knowledge that Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is supposed to be a little silly, just strap in and enjoy this lowbrow zom-com for what it is: unapologetically entertaining!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is released through Paramount Pictures Australia