Sunday, 22 November 2015

Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (2015) - Movie Review

No matter how menacing, influential or popular a creature is, there will always come a time when they will officially stop being scary. We’ve seen it happen with vampires and werewolves and now, with how obnoxiously prevalent they are, zombies have joined them. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they can’t be used in stories anymore; just that the method has to be tweaked ever so slightly. Where vampires and werewolves used to be monstrous creatures of the night, they have now become more humanised and treated with the character in mind more than previously. Zombies, on the other hand, are pretty much reduced to being scenery. They are nameless, faceless cannon fodder that the audience can feel guiltless for seeing killed off in bloody fashion, all the while mainly contributing the setting for a story. Hell, the most popular zombie-related media right now, The Walking Dead, is far less about the zombies themselves and more about their presence and prevalence affects the few human survivors and how they interact and conflict with each other. What I’m getting at with all this is, even with my own still-lingering affinity for the genre, I’m not expecting too much from today’s film.

The plot: Teenaged scouts Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) go out on a camping trip in the woods. While this is happening, their town is taken over by zombies and the surviving residents have been evacuated. As they find themselves overwhelmed by the undead, they have to make it out alive with the help of cocktail waitress Denise (Sarah Dumont) and, hopefully, make it to the Secret Seniors Party before the zombies get there first.

You know, it’s been a while since there was a film this unabashedly sophomoric. Of course, it’s not as if the zombie titty-flashing trailer did anything to hide this… and with good reason. I’ll admit that I prefer the more intelligent film, one where time is taken to provide effective action on screen as well as insightful commentary or some sort of message being delivered within the subtext. Yes, I do tend to overreach when it comes to my entertainment, but then again I want to do things that I allow me to indulge in my own need to over-analyse everything that I witness. However, as much as most of my previous reviews may argue, I have nothing against the thicker side of cinema. Really, when I usually complain about how dumb a movie is, it’s because it doesn’t realise exactly how dumb it’s being. It’s basically the difference between how Dumb & Dumber was written and how Dumb & Dumberer was written: One has dumb characters, the other is just dumb. At times, this very much feels like it’s in on the joke; a good way to figure that out is if the zombie film in question has strippers or people in an occupation that often mistakes them for being strippers. Seriously, it’s kind of weird how prevalent that specific trope is. Somehow, I doubt that someone’s ass being gummed by a zombie granny is the stuff of major drama.

Then, on the flip side, we have characters doing quite obviously dumb things and it’s fairly certain that it was done purely for plot reasons. There’s no real way to rationalise locking yourself in a jail cell surrounded zombies, unless you’ve got a damn good argument that claims adrenaline halves your IQ points. To contrast this, they end up in a similar situation later on where they end up being trapped, only that time it makes sense because they weren’t entirely sure where they were going. Still kind of stupid, but forgivable for the purposes of the film. So, yeah, in terms of overall entertainment, it’s relies on a lot of adolescent Superbad-style comedy, with one scout doing the majority of the wisecracks, so I sincerely hope that that’s your thing if you want to go see this film.

In order to make a decent mark when it comes to zombie films, or even zombie media in general nowadays, filmmakers have to get real inventive. Even if it sticks to the tropes of the genre, it has to do something that sets it apart from other zombie fare. Unfortunately, we don’t get a whole lot of that here. We have a couple of decent ideas, like the house full of zombie cats and the zombie cop who just blindly fires everywhere, but it sticks pretty well to its tropes: You got the insecure leader, the loud-mouthed jerk who ends up being a bit of a wimp, the dorky kid who ends up being the badass, and you’ve got the more learned adult who clues in the others, and in turn the audience, on what’s going on.

Aside from the concept of zombie animals, there isn’t much by way of variety. Unless we’re talking about the zombie who randomly figured out how to restore power to the strip club and use the lighting and music system successfully, they’re pretty basic overall. As for the ways they’re dispatched, we get a couple of nice Dead Rising-type spurts of creativity like the pool ball launcher and the weed-whacker, not to mention the running gag about one zombie that just won’t die. Unfortunately, this only happens during the finale; otherwise, while we do get decent effects both practical and digital (even if they abuse slow-mo like Zack Snyder), it’s nothing too spectacular.

Every zombie film has some degree of commentary behind it; no zombie is just a zombie, they have to represent something. Most of the time, filmmakers go with the classic Romero consumerist angle about how numbly people go through life and just devour everything in sight, only with their wallets instead of their mouths. Here, we get that type of commentary, only it appears in a rather unexpected form: Pop music. From how the zombies get distracted to the most bizarre non-Spring Breakers use of a Britney Spears song, right down to the classic rock entrance music for our scouts, this film seems to want to make a statement about our blind consumption of today’s Top 40 radio listeners. As someone who grew up listening to 00’s radio, this is definitely a worthy comparison in my eyes.

However, it seems like the film wants to have its subtext and eat its brains too. While this film mostly uses pop music to good effect, there are some scenes where it is being used like any other piece of incidental music. Much like the intelligence levels of the zombies, and the characters, the attempts at commentary are pretty inconsistent. This is also diluted heavily by the standard coming-of-age story involving teens being forced to grow up as a result of a major event, in this case being a zombie outbreak. However, I will give credit to director Christopher B. Landon in that he definitely seem to be working more towards his strengths than he did last time with The Marked Ones. There, while the characters were nice and the dialogue was funny, the scares are pretty lacking. Here, because it's meant to be a semi-splatstick zombie movie, being scary isn't nearly as vital so the characters and humour are brought into the forefront. Even if they are fairly boilerplate, the director is being put to better use this time around at least.

All in all, this is a dumb zombie film in a very adolescent way. It may not have the kind of ingenuity that gave birth to meth-head zombies, but it is still fun in its own right thanks to the effects work and its intriguing, if haphazard, attempts at social commentary. As much as I would usually use the phrase “turn your brain off” to insult a film, in this case, I think it was very much the intention for the audience here. If you’re the kind of viewer that A) is able to watch a zombie film these days without audibly sighing and B) not too discerning, this might be worth a watch.

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