From the moment I saw this trailer I wanted to see this movie. I am a theatre geek to begin with, so musicals are always a soft spot. I am THE Horror fan at my job, but one of my employees is a close second, as such Zombies get my attention. I am a sentimentalist and thus a good charming Christmas movie with a twist is always touching. What happens when you mix the three into a single movie? You get Anna and the Apocalypse. What appears to be the perfect blend of the comedy I like, a solid musical in the vein of High School musical, and zombies. This absolutely should not work.
But did it?
The movie is a product of Scotland, a country that every day I am considering trying to import myself into, which also gave us the fantastic film Let Us Prey. The writers are also products of Scotland, with Ryan McHenry and Alan McDonald in their first big release in their own country, much less globally. Director John McPhail is getting his first shot at wide screen title as well. The story is as simple as the trailer provides you, where a zombie apocalypse hits a sleepy coastal town in Scotland around Christmas. Anna and her friends have to make it to their school from across town amidst the chaos and undead to find their friends and family and hope for an evac from the local military. That’s it. The plot couldn’t be more simple, but there is an elegance in the simplicity as the writers were able to focus and spend time on the characters as they deal with the undead, their own lives, and the burdens of growing up. Along the way there is full on musical numbers that are absolutely catchy and I haven’t stopped listening since I left the theatre.
On the topic of the musical beats, at first I thought they were non diagetic, which means that they aren’t “actually” happening in camera and are more traditional to a musical; but there are a few beats that make me question that to the point the movie may actually be having these absolutely absurd sequences happening real time. I honestly like that in this case. It takes the movie with a wink and a nod and brings you along with the fun. Some of the sequences and songs reminded me a bit of something I would see in Rocky Horror Picture Show, while others went full Disney, and even others went full Edgar Wright. Again I am ok with it, because while I can see these influences (due to seeing so many movies) they make it work and also make it their own. The film makes a few obvious references to Shaun of the Dead and this is worthy as you could almost consider this a spiritual successor to that film; and it is also clear to me that McPhail took more than a few influences from Edgar Wrights style of directing. This is something to be encouraged as we need more Wrights in the world and what he brings to the table with his cuts, editing, and camera work.
I in a rare instance get to talk about the singing and performance of our actors. Starting with our titular character Anna, played by Ella Hunt. She’s the perfect lead for this as she is both warm and engaging and her vocals are right in the range that I find pleasing. She gives a truly “human” performance as her character goes through the story and then is screen capturing when she gets her solo songs. Sarah Swire, who plays Steph, and gives the movie some positive Queer representation, has some great moments, but her vocals are just absolutely powerful and as good as Hunt is, Swire’s range and power is incredible. The other main players, Malcolm Cumming, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, and Marli Sui all do good jobs, but none of them quite stand out the way Hunt and Swire do. Wiggins, as his character Nick, gets a pretty good “hero” solo in the movie but the character is unlikable so it’s hard to enjoy as much as would be potential if he wasn’t such as knob. The surprising performance comes from Paul Kaye, as Headmaster Savage. Game of Thrones fans will know him as Thoros of Myr; I thought he was doing his best impression of Bill Nighy to the point I couldn’t recognize him. He even had Nighy’s mannerisms and vocal ticks down in a few scenes so I can’t say if it was intentional or I just need to watch more of Kaye’s work. His songs give me the most feeling of something from Rocky Horror, not in theme but range, tone and style.
For my Gore hounds, I think you will be satisfied with this movie as the effects are good and beautifully practical. I think they could have gone further, true, but they struck a balance with the rest of the tone of the story. My theatre geeks will probably enjoy the overall production and beats and even the stage like performances for songs like Human Voice and Hollywood Ending. The Disney like “I want” song, “Break Away” has a great hook and a damn near addictive property with Hunt, Swire, and Cumming’s leading vocals. The camera work beyond the musical numbers is absolutely solid and shows more command than I’ve seen out of a dozen Hollywood films this year with some great intentional shots and use of motion.
The hype for this one is real folks. I had a blast watching this as did the audience that was there, small as it was. Beyond the funny beats being my kind of funny, the music being well above the average we’ve gotten used to; the movie has one major thing going for it. It’s charming as hell. It isn’t full comedy guys, there’s a real story to it that plays out and you feel with the characters as it unfolds. There is absolute heart here and it shows in the love and care from writing, directing, cast, and crew.
Anna and the Apocalypse, will be in my permanent rotation going forward for my Holiday movie watching.
Should I watch it?
If you can. The movie has gotten a limited release here in the US, but if you have a showing in your area take the opportunity. For my less Horror inclined, I don’t think the movie offers much in the way of the scares or the spooks and I think it is really accessible for wider audiences if you can handle the more gory beats.
It isn’t perfect. There’s a few things I am not a fan of, but they don’t detract enough from the overall for me to degrade my recommendation.
Would you watch it again?
In theatres. At full price. No regrets
How else am I going to put it in my rotation? I’m even getting the soundtrack.
Are you going a bit overboard here?
Ok I’ve had a shite week. Like full on rubbish. This movie put me in a happy place with how genuine it felt and refreshing it was. It’s not mainstream by any stretch, but I don’t think it should be. It’s right where it belongs and the only thing it deserves is reciprocation of the love that the Cast and Crew clearly put into it.
Now excuse me while I see if I can put an Anna cosplay together.
What a time to be alive.