Otherwise Clever Zombie Film Falls Prey To Crassness Overkill
DIRECTED BY CHRISTOPHER LANDON/2015
There’s a long history of teens setting out into the woods only to be confronted with cruel horrors beyond their control or understanding. In this case, three Boy Scouts (although the film is careful to not actually identify them as such, as the Boy Scouts of America would never endorse this coarse nonsense) in their twilight days of the program go for a final campout, only to find themselves forced to deal with their own straining friendships, as well as being percieved as straight-arrow outsiders, and the zombie apocalypse.
The trio of neckerchiefed stock-character buddies, played by Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life), Logan Miller (Ultimate Spider-Man) and Joey Morgan (this) are solid, even momentarily heartfelt in their parts. The film is built upon the known premise that scouting, for all its life-skills usefullness, is simply, terminally uncool. The scoutmaster (a very game David Koechner of Anchorman fame) is a clueless toupee-wearing single man who’s as obsessed with Dolly Parton as he is with scouting. For the three boys, this man’s life is their only discernable future. Yet, opportunity knocks in the sickest of places… Sure enough, when there’s apparently no more room in Hell and the are dead walking the earth (later that night), their trusty Swiss Army knives and the ability to kindle fire with rocks will prove to be their town’s last line of defense.
Paramount Pictures, who’s releasing Scouts Guide, is a longstanding film studio with a proud history that it’s all too happy to co-opt and sell off while also propping it up. Followers of the business have seen the studio in the 1980s subsist on Friday the 13th and Star Trek while projecting the more respectable veneer of Children of a Lesser God and Atlantic City. Friday the 13th in particular has proven to be a most interesting black sheep, as the studio now seems all too happy to disassociate with its one-time lifeblood. Fact of the matter is that Paramount was never too proud to crank out cheap, gory horror fare beamed directly at an adolescent audience technically too young to buy tickets to the movies. This is a quick and easy outsider’s understanding of things, but it all certainly seems to add up.
Here we go again. Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, while far more funny, and even clever than any 1980s slasher film, is nevertheless stocked with numerous crass, over the top body gags that are not only quick n’ easy teen/shock bait, but overshadow the film’s genuinely stonger, effective qualities. Even now, the morning after having seen the film, I’m struggling to recall anything beyond my own recoiling in shocked amusement at the several graphic zombie-infused gags of private parts, some displayed more graphically than others, although no body part of either gender is spared. Indeed, among the MPAA’s citations for its R-rating is “graphic nudity” – but does the term really apply if its referring to zombified breasts and a penis that can in no way be real? In any case, these should not be my main points of focus following this otherwise fun and surprisingly watchable distraction. And, yet.
Virginal and isolated from their hip peers, and feeling oppressed by every bit of it, two of the boys run afoul of the third when they attempt to sneak away from their campout to a secret rave party. The shenanigans that ensue reveal Scouts Guide to be more of a horny teenager comedy (sans sex) than a horror film: Every girl is hot, every old person is repulsive (thank you, Cloris Leachman!), and the trip they go on and the humiliations they endure will teach them valuable truths and leave them the better for it – if they survive.
Sarah Dumont steals every scene she’s in, as playing a take-charge damaged-goods stripper (I mean, “cocktail waitress”) in the most form-fitting white tank top ever adorned. She cocks her shotgun and tosses off quips like the best male action hero, except hers aren’t particularly funny. But, per the film’s male purview, she’s put forth as impossibly hot, and will mother them to survival, to boot.
Her character is granted as much backstory and common humanity as anyone else, but to site her as any kind of “empowered female action hero” would be to look beyond the transparency of her entire reason for being in the movie. It’s just the kind of approchable male fantasy that everyone has become accustomed to. Is Dumont great? Yes.
It’s hard to say to what degree these character’s adherense to this this once-respectible, now antiquated organization is something that the film ultimately affirms, or if it’s the central joke. In the end, male adolescence is the true is the true zombie that haunts this film, and beyond. It’s that phase of life that our society will in no way let die. Adult men who don’t know how to grow up or what adulthood even looks like, and even women who can deliver a horny male-gazey screenplay such as this one are quickly becoming the frightening fabric of our world. And yet, a 40+ film critic (and zombie movie fan) such as myself comes away from Scouts Guide feeling if not old, then certainly aged-out.
Scouts Guide, as competently helmed by Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones), is, despite it’s broader shortcomings and nits I pick, a lively and entertaining addition to the overly-saturated zombie sub-genre. I’ve seen more aggregious horsecrap at the cinema this year, even if this can never measure up to the Shaun of the Dead template it is so clearly striving for. The film isn’t worth pitching a tent over, but it will likely find it’s audience one way or another, whether it be in its theatrical run, or its much-discussed quick VOD premiere.