Like the flesh-eating ghouls at the center of the cable television hit, The Walking Dead shows no sign of going away anytime soon (It was just renewed for a mind-boggling seventh season). Viewers can’t seem to get enough of The Walking Dead’s grim, nihilistic post-apocalyptic scenario where even the most beloved characters (minus the seemingly unkillable hero-protagonist, Rick Grimes) can be tossed into the voracious, unquenchable maws of its flesh-eating walkers. Thankfully, however, this weekend will bring a bit of a respite for viewers eager for an alternative, any alternative, to The Walking Dead: Ash vs. the Evil Dead, the decades-in-anticipation return of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell’s singular creation, and The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, a horror-comedy that offers a handful of visual diversions, mostly of the gross-out, practical effects variety, along with a heartwarming, life-affirming tale about the unbreakable bonds between and among hormonally energized teen bros
When we meet The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’s protagonist trio, Ben (Tye Sheridan), a thoughtful, forward-thinking bro, Carter (Logan Miller), his self, centered, horndog best friend, and Augie (Joey Morgan), the longtime friend (and obligatory rotund character) Ben and Carter have rapidly outgrown, they’re trying to recruit new members to their sadsack scout group (the American Scouts Society, because the Boy Scouts of America wanted nothing to do with The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse for obvious reasons). They fail badly at the recruitment thing, but that doesn’t stop their zealous scout leader, the Dolly Parton-loving Rogers (David Koechner), from putting a positive spin on their present and future, including an upcoming scout’s camping night out. Carter wants to ditch the scouts for good and act like a normal teenager. Ben is more reluctant, if only because of the effect it’ll have on Augie, a true believer like Scouts Leader Rogers.
There’s also a super-secret senior party they desperately want to attend the same night, Carter for all of the older girls (who’ll reject him outright, of course, but he’s nothing if not an eternal optimist), Ben because he’s had a longstanding, potentially bro-code breaking crush on Carter’s waifishly thin sister, Kendall (Halston Sage). Of course, they don’t notice the zombie outbreak until it’s almost too late. By then, half the town has been infected while the other half has mysteriously disappeared (a function of The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’s budget as much as a narrative choice), evacuated to parts unknown. Ben, Carter, and later Augie eventually set aside their differences and join forces to save themselves and their loved ones – loved ones being Kendall for Carter and Ben as their other respective family members never cross their minds.
An Amazonian blond straight out of a videogame, Denise (Sarah Dumont), also joins the zombie-killing fray. She’s an adolescent, video game playing male’s dream girl, cool under pressure, coolly efficient with a shotgun and other weapons of close-quarter destruction and just as willing to run around in a tight white t-shirt and super-short, cut-off blue jeans as an in-film (and out-of-film) object of male desire/gaze. In short, Denise is exactly what we’d expect from a film purposely, specifically made to cater to an extremely narrow (male) demographic. Dumont, however, deserves considerable credit for not embarrassing herself in the role. She manages to sidestep one potentially cringe-inducing scene after another with most of her dignity intact. If that’s not worthy of hazard pay, it’s hard, if not impossible, to think what is or would be.
At times desperately short of originality plot, character, or humor wise, The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse moves along at a reasonably paced clip, rarely taking more than a moment for the obligatory airing of grievances and related bro-bonding in between encounters with zombies (sometimes slow moving, sometimes running, as story needs, if not the usual rules of logic, dictates). Landon does his best to hide the obviously limited budget, but there’s only so much a single director can do. Outside of the climactic battle between the scouts, putting their knowledge of household/construction implements to bloody, gory results, and a raved-up zombie horde at an underground club, Landon holds back too often (again, possibly, probably a function of budget), but when he does, the results are rarely more than scattershot (too much cross-cutting, too much shaky cam), though a darkly comic, black sense of Evil Dead-inspired humor breaks through on occasion.
Other than that, The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse offers few, actually no surprises story or other wise, though to be fair, everyone in the cast gives their all, especially Tye Sheridan, a young actor who’s already worked with Terence Malick (The Tree of Life), David Gordon Green (Joe), Jeff Nichols (Mud), and Rodrigo Garcia (Last Days in the Desert). Chances are, his decades-in-the-future highlight reel won’t include The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse.