Recommendation: Not the greatest zombie flick in recent memory, but it adds a new take by adding musical elements and tender moments in a usually over-bleak genre. 7/10.
IMDB Synopsis: 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.
The zombie genre—not to mention the response to it—is fairly tired. Short on brains, the genre has mostly devolved into uber-serious, mega dark sagas of human survival or cheesy, over-the-top gore fest B-flicks. Anna and the Apocalypse is a breath of fresh air, blending tried-and-true themes into a surprisingly delightful package. One part holiday film, one part zom-com, and one part musical, Anna and the Apocalypse pleases without getting too cheesy, too dark, or too saccharine.
The setup is that of a teen dramedy, with the titular Anna (Ella Hunt) fighting teen angst and ennui, searching for meaning in life. There’s the male best friend, John (Malcom Cumming) who pines for more. The bleeding heart, awkward lesbian outsider Steph (Sarah Swire). The geeky tech friend Chris (Christopher Leveaux) and his needy but sweet gf Lisa (Marli Siu). The jocky, rich pretty boy jerk Nick (Ben Wiggins). And of course, the asshole headmaster Arthur Savage (Paul Kaye). In fact, during the first 12 minutes, the biggest threat isn’t the undead, but rather what lies ahead after high school.
The plot is simple. Survivors get from point A to point B to meet other survivors. Then everyone can flee town together. And as the film chugs along as a brisk clip, the film explores the characters and their inner thinking not through hacky exposition but through song and dance—just with the undead closing in. Anna and the Apocalypse is the embodiment of, “it’s the journey, not the destination.” The musics numbers aren’t far more entertaining than the zombie kills (of which there are many), and the stakes for our friends are much higher than one would expect from a film of this ilk. By film’s end, the ride Anna and the Apocalypse takes the audience on is well worth whatever nihilistic and mildly hopeful ending is shown (as is the ending of every zombie movie).
A zombie musical Christmas spectacular isn’t a genre that is or ever will be popular. And it could have really gone off the rails, revolving into the absurdly cheesy or weirdly hokey, but it threads the needle to leave us with a sweet and entertaining romp that’s fun for the whole family. Anna and the Apocalypse won’t make the canon of all-time zombie greats, but you could do a lot worse around the holidays.
MVP: The titular character is the focus of the film for good reason. Ella Hunt as Anna Shepherd imbues brooding teen listlessness and channels it into song. Having to Balance energetic musical set pieces, the heaviness of an apocalyptic drama, and the physicality of a zombie flick, Hunt delivers.
Highlights: The musical numbers, of course. Sarah Swire as Steph puts in an awkward and neurotic performance and shows the most growth of any character. The film has moments of big Shaun of the Dead energy, which is enjoyable.
Director: John McPhail
Studio: Orion // Original release date: November 30, 2018 (also streaming on Amazon Prime now)