Anna And The Apocalypse (UK / USA / TBC / 97 mins)
In short: Highly original
Directed by John McPhail. Starring Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Ben Wiggins, Paul Kaye.
The Plot: Teenager Anna (Ella Hunt) wants to break free, finish school and start a new life in Australia. Her small English coastal town of Little Haven just can’t contain her ambitions, much to her father’s disappointment. With Christmas approaching, she prepares for a stage show. However, a zombie outbreak threatens everything around her. She’ll have to band together with her friends John (Malcolm Cumming), Steph (Sarah Swire) and bad boy Nick (Ben Wiggins) to survive. With the help of a song or two…
The Verdict: It’s been half a century since the classic Romero zombies climbed out of their graves and haunted our nightmares. Has the zombie film been done to death, so to speak? Not so, it seems. This year alone we had an alternative Irish take with post-zombie apocalypse film The Cured. Another inventive offering is British film Anna And The Apocalypse, which daringly mixes a zombie film, a comedy and – yes – a musical to form a… musi-com-zom? If that sounds like a crazy proposition for an audience, then it’s clearly intended by second-time director John McPhail. It works though. Rather brilliantly actually.
The key to the film’s success is building the story around relatable teenager characters who aren’t the usual stock types – the princess, football jock, nerd etc. Instead, they’re a likeable bunch of everyday kids who talk about Beyonce, dream of bigger things and are aware enough to know how to deal with a deadly zombie outbreak as if it was a school drill. Someone’s been watching too many horror movies – in a positive sense of course. It starts out as a Glee-style school musical with some catchy and saucy tunes before sliding easily into more distinct genre territory. This is done through a hilarious musical sequence in which Anna wakes up, leaves for school and is unaware of the bloody chaos around her. Very Monty Python.
McPhail builds up his visual confidence as the plot progresses, staging a terrific action sequence in a bowling alley with some striking lighting and choice gore. It would be easy for McPhail to follow this up with one sequence after another like this. Instead, he goes down the emotional route, emphasising the power of teenage friendship in times of adversity. It’s quite touching and even more shocking when one of them gets bitten and then infected. The excellent songs are used to underscore the characters’ emotions, rather than act as a gimmick. Even Paul Kaye’s stern principal surprises with a tune. It may seem like an oddball mix, but the musical element works well in tandem with the feel-good tone of the film.
Anna And The Apocalypse is a welcome antidote to saccharine-heavy Christmas films. While it’s occasionally gory, it’s done in the best possible taste and with a welcome dose of Shaun Of The Dead-style humour. It really shouldn’t work, but it does so thanks to a committed cast, smart direction and a delicate balance of emotion, laughs and carefully-placed tunes. It might just be one of the year’s most original films. Go in with an open mind and you might be surprised by how enjoyable it is.