Film Review: ‘Anna And The Apocalypse’ Is A Musical With A Zombie Twist

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Anna And The Apocalypse is a (high school) musical with a twist. Namely, zombies. Directed by John McPhail, the genre-blurring film is equal parts humor, gore and show tunes. A mix that sounds truly awful in theory, but comes together seamlessly in the year’s most refreshing Christmas romp. The plot couldn’t be simpler. A horde of The Undead inexplicably descends upon the sleepy UK town of Little Haven, which slightly derails Anna’s plan to get the fuck out. Instead, our heroine (played by Ella Hunt) has to fight for her life.

How does the musical component factor into this scenario? Well, the poster describes the movie as Shaun Of The Dead meets La La Land, but I think Once More With Feeling (yes, the musical episode of Buffy) by way of The Breakfast Club is more apt. Ironically given its release in them, Anna And The Apocalypse doesn’t have arthouse aspirations. This is unpretentious entertainment with wide appeal. The songs just pop up randomly to express a feeling or emotion, from unrequited love to teenage ennui. It helps that the soundtrack is bursting with pop-centric bops.

Most of which are sung by Anna and her best friend John (newcomer Malcolm Cumming). He’s madly in love with her, while she just wants to be friends. It’s a recipe for teen drama, but McPhail downplays the tired trope admirably. They have real chemistry and deliver the film’s standout musical moments. “Break Away” wouldn’t sound out of place on the High School Musical soundtrack, while the perky, new wave-tinged “Turning My Life Around” is a real winner. They are the Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron of the movie, which I mean as a huge compliment.

Not that they have the movie entirely to themselves. Lisa (the delightful Marli Siu) threatens to steal the show with her raunchy Christmas anthem, “It’s That Time Of Year,” which is basically a “Santa Baby” rip-off complete with amazing lyrics like “my chimney needs a good unblocking” and “come on over and unload your sack.” The fact that she performs it a school talent show surrounded by candy cane-twirling students makes it even better. Another key player is Mark Benton, who plays Anna’s dad.

Anna’s rocky relationship with him is the beating heart of the film and they share a beautiful moment via a ballad called “I Will Believe.” If you like melancholy musical numbers, the moody, Tears For Fears-evoking “Human Voice” is also a must-hear. While the film is largely contained, a couple of supporting characters get a chance to shine. Paul Kaye makes every second of screen time count as the evil headmaster and his outrageous theme song, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now,” is a demented highlight. If nothing else, Anna And The Apocalypse is destined to be a cult classic.

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