Anna and the Apocalypse, 2018.
Directed by John McPhail.
Starring Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Ben Wiggins, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, and Paul Kaye.
A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.
It’s certainly bold to make a Christmas centered musical where the majority of the fresh songs are not related to the holiday. It’s another thing to combine both of those ingredients with traditional zombie gore. However, perhaps the most striking element of the uniquely impressive balancing act that makes up Anna and the Apocalypse is that Scottish director John McPhail never loses sight of the characters, telling a story about high school teenagers on the verge of graduation, and by extension, adulthood, looking to break away from their current situations.
The eponymous Anna (who quickly becomes a bonafide zombie slaying badass capable of impaling the undead with oversized candy canes just as much as Ella Hunt is at belting out a tune or two, overcoming the slightly grating nuisance that is her and the entire ensemble seemingly receiving autotune assistance, by way of enthusiastic facial expressions and dorkily charming dance maneuvers) is deadset on going against her father’s (Mark Benton) wishes of attending university right away in order to travel the world, specifically Australia first. They love each other, but with the recent passing of mom, Anna understandably wants to temporarily get away and experience freedom for both pleasures and likely as a coping mechanism, even if it means leaving her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) behind (although he does vow to visit her from time to time, mostly because he’s overtly in love with her and terrible at hiding it).
On the way to school, a radio newscast fills everyone in that there is a viral outbreak spreading, with a flu designation being ruled out. The trio promptly turn it off (Anna’s father works as the school janitor) continuing along with their heated argument about the above, but surprisingly the film jumps into at least two musical numbers before encountering any zombie violence. Depending on how you view it, that number could rise to three. The songs themselves feel like something from the Disney Channel, but I mean that in a complementary way. They are staged to please and come across involving with high-energy, but a few of them are also quite strong lyrically whether it be from diving into the pain of having no way to communicate with loved ones (this segment is somewhat contrived as the students are able to access the Internet to learn more about the global pandemic but apparently unable to text anyone) or announcing that there are no Hollywood endings. To the film’s great credit, Anna and the Apocalypse stays true to this notion, unafraid to kill off most characters, doing so at least expected moments.
The song and dance numbers are also imaginative, although that’s probably a given for a movie that’s smashing together zombies and musical numbers. Characters deliver a catchy tune on their way to school completely unaware of their surroundings as people are either seen falling from their deaths or being eaten in the background, including a showoff jerk fellow classmate played by Ben Wiggins (one that also has a connection to Anna that we learn more about as the film goes on) that murders all the undead in sight as if this new world is an arcade game, and a cartoonishly evil school principal (fittingly named Savage and played by Paul Kaye who is at a 10 in terms of chaotic evil, with the script from Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry desperately needing to do dial him back to a 7) serving as the villain. Savage is also seen harshly punishing students, such as activist Steph (Sarah Swire), a lonely student on the rocks with her girlfriend and abandoned by her parents over her sexual orientation, and a publicly affectionate couple played by Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu skilled at video editing and stage performing respectively.
Even the unlikable characters are likeable, as everything from tennis rackets to candy canes is utilized to bash in brains for fountain blood theatrics. There’s a musical number set inside of a bowling alley that contains some clever kills, but what also stands out is the danger of death for every one of these charismatic students. It’s not just about zombies and holiday slaughtering set to catchy tunes, as this is also a well-characterized family drama that brings to mind a tantalizing concoction of Shaun of the Dead and Lady Bird funneled through joyous musical expression and a Christmas setting. Anna and the Apocalypse is probably the least original zombie story out there, but it doesn’t need to do anything flashy with that narrative device considering that there is so much creativity flowing around it. It even builds to some surprisingly emotional moments despite the ludicrous nature of the proceedings. Joy to the apocalyptic world, and may it continue for future stories.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com