Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse - review

2015 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

With Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, co-writer and director Christopher B. Landon has fashioned a zom-rom-com that not only ticks all the boxes, but is fresh enough to stand out in what has, if we're honest, become quite the overcrowded and tired field. It's fresh, lively and struts it's stuff with a competent swagger; and it's well balanced providing just the right amounts of laughs, jumps and squeals of disgust, and at the right times. It's film to sit back and enjoy; for popcorn and beer; a low-brow throwaway indulgence and, hey why not? So what more to add? Not a lot if I'm honest, other than it's actually very good, and I could probably end the review here. I mean c'mon, it's a zombie rom-com with all that that trope comes with, and if you're honest you already really know, not just what to expect but whether you'll want to watch it. Ok, just in case you do want more, and also so as not to break my review format I'll continue.

Secretive Biotech companies, nefarious experimentation and highly avoidable incompetence is always a good old way to start an apocalypse. Here, there's Biotine Corp., a janitor, a zombie, NO safeguards and a few goofy visual jokes; and if I'm honest not the best of intros, but it's brief and to the point. It also establishes the template to come and that blood and puerile jokes will be flowing both in quantity, and equal measure. And whilst this is true and much hilarity is to ensue it should also be taken more of as a short discrete throwaway addition, as there's actually a full, well conceived narrative once the intro has rolled, of friendship, of growing up, of getting laid.

Ben (Tye Sheridan) and Carter (Logan Miller) are two boys on the precipice of adulthood with all the conflict that brings. There's friends, family, and expectation and doing the 'right' thing represented here, by the boy scout movement and their responsibility to the third member of the gang, Augie (Tye Sheridan), and then there's all the angst and wanting to throw away the badges, to party, and rebel. The film is in part that heart-warming journey through the labyrinth; a moral lesson that perhaps there's a way forward that doesn't mean you have give up all of where you are, of have been.

It's also a very daft and dirty zombie splatter fest. and any moralising can stop there; as Landon is certainly no boy-scout, but quite the puerile and juvenile director, with a penchant for some quite tasteless and risque set ups and humour. Which I should add, he gets away with. In Scouts Guide, the uniform and badges, their ever desperate scout leader Rogers (David Koechner) epitomise all that is socially awkward, dorky and uncool. It's a parody sure, and an easy one to exaggerate, but it's played to perfection bringing together all aspects of the narrative, the humour and characters. It's played so well one actually regresses back in time, you feel their distress and unease and this allows the boobs and objectification stuff to pass over; as you're in with the joke; in the young lads heads when shirt pops open and the shorts are tight.

As with all zombie comedies there's a trick to play the main characters pretty straight and to get the humour and energy from the surreal, daft, and when done well, imaginative and well-conceived, coherent situations that surround them. All three leads, though relatively unknown, throw themselves at each increasingly preposterous situation and solution with zeal, and their on screen chemistry is believable and at times endearing because of it. Sure, some scenes and sequences could be accused of being overly simple or derivative; but such is the vibrancy and youthful energy, both in script and production, they end up feeling alive and fresh.

Despite the work that was purported to have been done, choreographing the zombies, for uniform movement and behaviour I personally found it a bit of mixed bag; though I didn't actually find it detracted. It's some kind of transferable virus that can also rather terrifyingly jump species, in this case we have a zombie deer and cat. It kills, reanimates and as per the template turns those infected into monstrous flesh eaters. They seem to neither shuffle or run; it's more a canter, but up close the zombies are quite the fast moving, fast acting, violent little buggers and pretty dangerous. They're actually utilised pretty well throughout, both as vehicles to drive to story and tension, and also as figures of fun with some quite brilliantly daft, if incoherent from a critical point of view, set pieces too.

Right, what to add? Not a lot if I'm honest. Gore? There's plenty of it and surprisingly gratuitous and excessive at times. Romance? It's more coming of age story, but there's a quite the cute teen romance nerd-gets-cute girl subplot that that I actually managed to stomach. Comedy? It's a riot. A rare light in a rather crowded genre, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is a well-crafted, fun-packed utterly brilliant zom-rom-com that I challenge anyone not to enjoy; even if it is, and maybe unavoidably so, at times just a bit by the numbers, 7/10.


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