Next week I turn 33. And I was actually feeling pretty good about that until I saw Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Never before have I felt so old. There’s a climactic action scene blaring with strobe lights, and I actually stared at my feet because it was inducing a headache.
The twenty-something crowd around me seemed to enjoy this horror-comedy. They laughed occasionally and even applauded at the end. But I sat there joyless, annoyed and confounded. Maybe it’s like that high frequency tone only young people can hear? Maybe I’m just not tuned in and so can’t enjoy this zombie flick one iota.
There were warning signs. Ahead of the screening, three people from the film took to the front of the theater to say hello and give crucial details about the after party in Williamsburg. (Red flag.) Between director Christopher Landon and female lead Sarah Dumont was a cocky white dude who the audience was ecstatic to see. I missed his name and had zero idea what the commotion was about. (Red Flag.) Thankfully, a person younger, hipper and more Millennial than I explained to me he was DJ Dillon Francis, who has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in the movie. (I did and did.)
The lights went down and up came “Dead Dillon”—the apparently famous DJ done up in zombie make-up— in a music video (Red Flag) that lasted about 15 infinities, revealing scads of spoilers for the movie we were there to watch, while blasting what I assumed would be the kind of thing you’d play in hostage situations to get the captors to surrender. But I’m told it was EDM, or Electronic Dance Music for my fellow oldz.
This was not a movie for me, and not just because I’m too ancient to appreciate Dead Dillon. I’m also old enough to remember good zombie comedies like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. So nothing here felt fresh, funny or worth my time. For instance, a strip club is called Lawrence of A Labia, a joke Sex and the City made years ago. And references to Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five,” Britney Spear’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” and the Taliban made me wonder how long this script moldered on a shelf before securing financing.
Beyond feeling dated, its premise of three teenaged boy scouts teaming up to battle the victims of a zombie outbreak is just as juvenile as you’d expect. There are lines like “Junior year is when all the girls become sluts!” And most gross out gags involve a mix of the undead and sex acts. Aside from some homophobic gags (sometimes literal) involving an undead man’s dick, there is a scene where the sex pest scout (Logan Miller) giddily fondles the big, blue-veined breasts of a busty zombie snared in a fence. Later, national treasure Cloris Leachman’s cranky old maid zombie tries to literally eat out the ass of said sex pest. But most ghastly is when a male zombie, who is missing a jaw but boasts a long and limber CGI tongue, goes down on a girl, who thinks it’s her boyfriend because she was distracted, watching videos on her phone. (“Your mouth is kind of cold!”)
As a long time horror fan, I’m used to a certain level of misogyny in the genre. But with groundbreaking offerings like Cabin in the Woods, The Babadook and Goodnight Mommy, I actually thought we were turning a corner. Maybe we are, but the makers of Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse are still way behind, finding jokes about rape and sexual assault totes hilar. I wasn’t so much offended as bored, because this brand of frat boy humor is widespread enough that it’s predictable. So predictable in fact that the audience was correctly calling out most of the movie’s plot points and reveals.
Another bone I have to pick as a horror fan is how damn sloppy this zombie movie’s mythos is. Generally rules are established about how the infection can spread and how fast. It helps define stakes. But in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse it’s really just whatever suits the scene. A bite will transform you, but it could take seconds or hours. Zombie saliva is a definite contagion, yet sex pest getting spray upon spray of zombie blood to the face is mysteriously not a problem. Similarly, the mobility of the zombies has a wide and nonsensical range. Some have that signature stumble, while others can full on run. Some can fire but can’t aim a gun, yet of course the lone zombie stripper can complete a complicated pole routine all the while in intimidating high heels.
This movie is profoundly and proudly stupid. But that wasn’t a deal breaker. It’s larger problem is that it is painfully predictable, from its stereotypical characters of pudgy geek (Joey Morgan), cleancut goody two-shoes (Tye Sheridan), sex pest bad boy, and hooker with a heart of gold (though technically she’s a cocktail waitress), to its plot, pacing, and done-to-death jokes.
Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse feels like an artifact. If you found a dust-covered VHS tape of it in your parents’ garage, you might chuckle at its sophomoric brand of humor and cringe-inducing sensibilities for being a product of their time. But as a new release, the only thing shocking about it is that it was made in the past decade. And the only thing fun about it is…nope. There’s nothing fun about this. I’d honestly rather undergo a root canal again than have to re-watch this. At least during a root canal I’ve never rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.