Currently in what is perhaps the closest there will ever be to a Renaissance of Zombie fiction, any entry of the undead variety now needs to be created with either a genuinely intriguing twist or a fresh gimmick to allow it stand out from the countless superior competitors that have filled the market in the last decade. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse has such a gimmick, in that it’s main characters are all Scouts, however director Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) fails to really utilize the concept beyond the title.
After years of being at the bottom of the high school food chain, nice guy Ben (Tye Sheridan) and the obnoxious Carter (Logan Miller) finally decide to leave the Scouts behind, only having persisted this long through sheer loyalty for their naively innocent friend, Augie (Joey Morgan), who only a year prior lost his father. After one final camp out, the trio returns to find their town deserted, although when they encounter a local strip joint’s shotgun wielding cocktail waitress, Denise (Sarah Dumont), they learn that they are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Now, the group must attempt to save themselves and their town, including their classmates at a party they weren’t invited to, before the military detonates a bomb that will annihilate their home.
The most disappointing part of the film is that all the necessary tools were there to make a good film. As stated, the film’s gimmick of seemingly helpless Scouts versing the undead is one that should have easily made for an entertaining watch, but instead it falls rather flat. Anyone entering the cinema would have the ready expectation that the Scouts would undoubtedly put their survival skills to good use in disposing of the walking dead (and probably in a hilarious way, too), and yet the film never delivers. Yes, the scouts become rather handy in some tight situations, but its never approached as something more than what a normal person could be capable of. Instead, the only real delivery on the gimmick is that the boys wear their scout uniforms for the whole film and characters seem to be obsessed with saying the word ‘scout’.
If you add to this that the film seems more concerned with only entertaining a teenage audience, it would be almost fitting to rename it merely ‘Teenagers vs. Zombies’. The three Scout leads (Sheridan, Miller & Morgan) all do their best to play their exaggerated parts with enthusiasm, but the script lacks any real wit to hold up it’s outlandish humor (think zombie boob and penis jokes), and as a consequence, only helps to drain the film of its fun. The film barely holds a candle to other recent classics like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, but while these films offered similar bloody splatter effects, they also offered an intelligent script and well crafted jokes.
The fourth component to the team is Dumount who, while admittedly appearing to be the most component member, seems to exist mainly for reasons of sex appeal. She also seems a blatant attempt to bring some balance against Halston Sage’s completely helpless Kendall, who at one point genuinely screams for help when trapped on a ladder, even after the zombies below have been dispatched of, and this isn’t a moment played for laughs. There’s also a fairly fun appearance from David Koechner (Anchor Man 2) as the trio’s Scout leader turned un-killable zombie, but even his comedic abilities aren’t enough to lift the film from mediocrity.
Another major issue is that the film relies heavily on the traditional idea of the undead in terms of how zombification works, but while they might still be shuffling with limbs dragging behind, there’s a hint that these zombies actually retain some of their humanity. I say hint because the film relies on this for one of it’s funnier moments involving a rendition of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, as well as allowing a zombie-stripper to confusingly do the better part of her routine before attempting to chow down on the Scouts, but this addition, which could have also helped the film stand out, is only used to make a few laughs and nothing more. It’s actually quite late in the film before it’s even addressed, only to then be quickly dropped, easily leaving an audience slightly puzzled as to what the actual rules are here.
There are some decent zombie kills though, and the film doesn’t hold back in showing gore, although some of the more outrageous gags will test even the broadest senses of humour. Most zombie fans will find enough to like to warrant at least one screening, but other audiences should only consider if they are in search of a watered down Superbad with appearances by the living dead.