Anna and the Apocalypse is a high school zombie musical set at Christmas. Which, obviously, sounds awesome. It sounds so awesome though, you’re probably thinking there’s no way it could love up to that expectation. But I’m happy to reveal that Anna and the Apocalypse lives up to your expectations and then some. It’s an absolute blast.
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Most of the success of the film is because it’s not afraid to embrace each of its many genres and milk them for all they’re worth. First, it starts as a high school film complete with its very own Breakfast Club. There’s the pretty girl next door, Anna (Ella Hunt), best friend who loves her, John (Malcolm Cumming), nerdy film friend (Chris Leveaux), his musical theater girlfriend, (Marli Siu), the socially conscious lesbian (Sarah Swire), the pretty boy bully (Ben Wiggins) and the asshole authority figure (Paul Kate). Those characters express their angst by singing, and from the first few bars of the first few songs you know you’re in good hands.
Songwriters Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly have crafted a toe-tapping, pop music soundtrack that evolves along with the movie. And let’s be honest. If the songs didn’t make you want to buy the soundtrack and secretly belt them out in your car, Anna and the Apocalypse would have had an even tougher uphill battle. But the songs are crazy catchy. They’re the gas that keeps the film going, making its best moments better, and even some weaker moments stronger.
Those weaker moments, though, are few and far between. They mostly come in the first act as the characters are being established and tone is being set. There’s a lot to set up, including the Christmas setting and, eventually, the zombies. Those zombies are largely introduced in a sequence that not too subtly references Shaun of the Dead. Anna leaves her house and walks through the streets, blissfully unaware of the rising chaos that’s happening all around here. Moments like this one are some of the film’s best. Yes, it’s directly referencing another work. But it also works to eases the film from one genre to the next. It’s transitioning from angsty teen musical to gory zombie musical, and tonal shifts like that are one of the many things director John McPhail does so well with the film. It’s constantly moving and by the time you’ve gone from one tone or genre to the next, you don’t even realize what happened. You’re already there.
So Anna and the Apocalypse nails the high school stuff, musical stuff and Christmas stuff. What about the horror? Yes, it nails that, too. There’s just the right amount of gore and gross, inventive kills to keep things unpredictable and soaked in blood, which, surprisingly, works well with the music.
If there’s anything negative that can be said about Anna and the Apocalypse it’s that as much as it really nails each of its genres and blends them expertly, it never elevates any of them. Where a film like Shaun of the Dead felt like a revelatory experience blending horror, romance and comedy, nothing in Anna and the Apocalypse ever sets the world on fire. It just all works incredibly well. And really, that in itself is a minor miracle.
A movie like Anna and the Apocalypse is designed to make you smile. Whether that’s because of the teen stuff, music, zombies, or Christmas, it doesn’t matter. You are supposed to be happy watching it. And not only will you be happy watching it, it’s so much fun, it could even go a long way to turning musical fans onto horror, or horror fans onto musicals. It has that kind of universal appeal.