Movie Review: “Anna and the Apocalypse”

Perhaps the inevitable upcoming zombie apocalypse won’t be all bad.  Assuredly loved ones will be lost and brains will be on the menu (it is a zombie apocalypse after all), but there might be singing and dancing, too, and who doesn’t like singing and dancing?  Maybe, even with the apocalypse, there will still be a Christmas (He is risen).

Although this may sound like something off an off-kilter idea, it is one that works surprisingly well on the big screen.  Heck, you might even want to buy the soundtrack.  Directed by John McPhail, and the “brain child” of late videographer Ryan McHenry, “Anna and the Apocalypse” is a singing, dancing, zombie-bashing good time.

The concept here is simple enough – it is nearly Christmas and Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends are doing the things that high schoolers do at that time of year, from getting ready for the Christmas show to wearing ugly sweaters to dealing with authoritarian school headmasters (the movie takes place in the UK).  All of this, however, comes to an undead standstill when what was thought to be a terrible illness turns out to cause zombies (zombiedom?). The teens still have to sort out their issues—like Anna having a thing for bad boy Nick (Ben Wiggins), and her best friend, John (Malcolm Cumming), having a thing for her—but there are also zombies out there creating mayhem.  Fun!

If this review sounds a little jokey it’s because “Anna and the Apocalypse” is a zombie Christmas musical.  Attempts to deal with it in the same manner that one approaches “Schindler’s List” would feel forced, and one of the reasons “Anna and the Apocalypse” is wonderful is because it in no way feels forced.  McPhail and the script from Alan McDonald & Ryan McHenry make this zombie holiday musical mash-up a great success.

Kudos must also go to the songwriters, Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, whose songs run the gamut.  There is a particularly wonderful, innuendo laden, holiday tune in the vein of “Santa Baby,” but it might be the more upbeat songs people leave the theater singing.  Just as the concept of a zombie holiday musical might sound odd, the fact that many will want to buy the album (which is available), is equally strange.

The brilliance of all this comes undoubtedly from putting the right people together at the right place at the right time.  The cast, which also includes Sara Swire (who also served as choreographer), Chris Leveaux, Marli  Siu, Mark Benton, and Paul Kaye are pitch perfect, with Kaye’s Savage, the headmaster, chewing scenery in wondrous fashion.  That said, Hunt is fantastic as well and we can all hope to see much more of her in years to come.

The script allows both the younger and older characters to explore mundane every day issues—the sorts of things that may seem apocalyptic to high schoolers however—and then layers everything else on top.  The movie slowly builds it all up until it seems almost normal for Anna to grab a pointy yard decoration candy cane and stab zombies with it.  That is a long way for a film to have to travel, but the journey is an enjoyable one.

This does mean that some of the storylines, like John’s unrequited love, are well worn, but they still feel very real.  This makes the characters instantly recognizable, which, perhaps, allows the zombie insanity on top of them to feel more natural as well.

As lighthearted as the movie sounds, it is certainly R-rated for a reason.  This is not the type of holiday zombie apocalypse musical that makes for good fare for the entire family, but if you’re old enough, you’re sure to eat it up.

“Anna and the Apocalypse” has even released a single, “Hollywood Ending.”  The film is certainly deserving of one of those. It is a beautiful, gory, funny, and an exceptionally good time.

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photo credit: Orion Pictures

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