Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is exactly what you think it is: crass, juvenile and utterly stupid. It makes no attempts to hide the fact. It is what it is and it embraces that, but throughout its runtime you can’t help but think how much potential has been squandered from a genuinely interesting premise.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse follows a group of three teenagers, the only participants in the local town’s scout program: brash and hot headed Carter (Logan Miller; The Stanford Prison Experiment, Plus One), quiet and geeky Augie (Joey Morgan; Compadres, Camp Manna) and sensible and compassionate Ben (Tye Sheridan; The Stanford Prison Experiment, The Tree of Life). They’re an odd group, bonded by their shared affiliation with the “uncool” boy scouts and ostracised by their peers as a result.
On the night of a campout, their scout leader Mr. Rogers (a playing against type David Koechner; Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, The Office) fails to turn up and when they return to town they discover it besieged by a zombie horde inadvertently set loose by a minimum wage janitorial worker from the local research lab. The trio, aided by a confident, shotgun wielding cocktail waitress named Denise (Sarah Dumont; Don Jon, Friends With Better Lives), attempt to escape the town before becoming part of the undead masses themselves.
Every so often there are small flashes of brilliance to Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. They rarely remain for too long but occasionally an inspired joke will appear, or an interesting sight gag will make itself known. These moments are distressingly rare, and the film spends far too much of its run time aiming for the lowest common denominator.
It’s a movie obsessed with sex and nudity, like so many other comedies. I’m not against drawing humor from this particular font, it can work brilliantly, but Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is just so lazy about it. It expects us to giggle when a female zombie’s shirt rips open and guffaw when one of its protagonists takes the opportunity to touch the undead woman’s breast. It expects us to laugh heartily when one of the characters falls out of a window but manages to hang from the sill by grasping at a zombie’s penis as he goes. These are puerile, forced gags and they’re just not funny.
The movie is actually at its best when it veers from such humor and instead takes aim at zombie tropes or makes use of its protagonists’ scout survival skills. It’s in these moments that the film actually seems like some thought has gone into it and the result is that a sparkle of something interesting shines through. Sadly, it does so too little, instead drawing from a well that quickly becomes poisoned with ill use as the movie continuously falls back to its less inspired obsession with the sexual.
What the film does have, even from its opening frame, is a distinct sense of style. The third directorial effort from Christopher B. Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Burning Palms), who also co-wrote the script with Carrie Evans (College Road Trip, Teamo Supremo) and Emi Mochizuki (College Road Trip), Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is a movie that drips with color and exaggeration.
Landon moves through scenes with a steady hand the belies his relatively light resume and imbues the picture with a striking (and occasionally even subversive) visual flourish. His screenwriting talents may be another matter entirely but as a director Landon has a confident and impressive eye.
Also rising above the material are the cast, all of whom elevate the script more than it deserves and manage to craft likable characters from it. Sheridan and Dumont are the film’s most capable performers, and they wring everything they can from the roles they’re given, while Miller and Morgan ably round out the squad with above average turns that are admittedly constrained by the script.
Look, if you’re expecting nothing more from Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse than crass jokes and zombie blood then it won’t disappoint you. It’s perfectly content to deliver the bare minimum of what its intended audience would expect and it does. But if you’re angling for something with thought in its head and bite in its wit, then the film can be more depressing than amusing. Some flashes of life can occasionally be seen, but for far too much of its run time it’s as brainless as its antagonists.