Anna and the Apocalypse Review
John McPhail's Christmas zombie musical comedy was warmly received on its festival debut and has picked up a solid following through its theatrical and DVD releases over the last couple of years.
Anna (Ella Hunt in a star making performance) is your usual teenager - coming to the end of her school years and planning to ditch the idea of going to uni in favour of a trip to Australia; little knowing that a zombie apocalypse is just around the corner. Background news reports hint at a growing deadly epidemic as Anna and her school friends get ready for their Christmas show and break while dealing with the day-to-day troubles of being a teenager in modern Britain and in a scene that riffs closely on the opening sequence of Shaun of the Dead we see Anna and John (Malcolm Cumming) performing one of the film's brilliantly written and choreographed musical numbers unaware of the unfolding carnage and stumbling undead behind them.
There's little doubt that there are moments in Anna and the Apocalypse that are inspired by earlier films - especially Edgar Wright's film (both are comedies filled with shocking and gory moments) - but there's enough in John McPhail's film to set it apart from its influences.
Setting the film at Christmas has made a huge difference to how it looks onscreen - unlike other zombie films which fall back to a much more dull but atmospheric palette, Anna... relishes the chance to throw as much colour at the screen as possible and it's all the more memorable for it. There are some great comedic moments - the school show has a particularly raunchy musical number that subverts audience expectations while giving Paul Kaye's evil headmaster plenty of material to ham it up over.
The real highlight of the piece though is the music - and in particular Tommy Reilly and Roddy Hart's brilliantly written and composed songs that are delivered with full gusto by the cast. There's a big-screen Disney feel about some of the tracks - if you're able to imagine replacing the sugary sweetness with the living dead - and they're choreographed almost seamlessly into the action.
Despite the moments of levity, as with Shaun of the Dead, there are moments of pure horror - both in terms of gore and devastation to the lives of the film's characters. There's a sequence with Marli Siu's Lisa and Christopher Leveaux's Chris that is surprisingly touching and you'll be hard pressed not to be moved. It's moments like these dotted through the insanity of a zombie musical that bring the film back down to a much more relatable experience.
Anna and the Apocalypse isn't a perfect film, but as a mashup of so many genres it's a surprisingly rounded and enjoyable experience.
There was widespread disappointment earlier in the year when it was revealed that the only release of the film would come via DVD - while it might not be a big, brash Hollywood blockbuster Anna and the Apocalypse deserved better treatment. Thankfully Second Sight have put things right with this new two disc Blu-ray release.
The film's vibrant palette comes alive in HD when freed from the murky limitations of DVDs lower resolution and restricted colour space. The Christmas theme helps the film stand apart from most of other Zombie films and the sharp, bright transfer here both benefits the film in the daytime scenes and also helps to create much greater definition in the darker moments set in the school.
This Blu-ray edition is well worth an upgrade if you're a fan of the film.
The 5.1 channel soundtrack is well defined and allows the full range of the film's brilliant songs to be appreciated - Tommy Reilly and Roddy Hart certainly created a memorable soundtrack elevating what could have been a trite film into something of an event.
Even during the dramatic, non musical scenes, the Blu-ray surround track offers a solid soundstage with good use of directional speakers.
This two disc release is leagues ahead of what we had on DVD. For a start there are two versions of the film - the original UK theatrical cut and the longer festival cut. The theatrical cut feels the tighter of the two films and remains my preferred option but the option to view both is appreciated.
The audio commentary by director John McPhail, writer Alan McDonald and the musical geniuses Tommy Reilly and Roddy Hart is engaging with much time dedicated to the films influences and also the whole process of creating something as unique as a zombie musical. Worth a listen.
There's also a brand new documentary featuring interviews with Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu, Director John McPhail, Writer Alan McDonald, Composers Roddy Hart & Tommy Reilly, Producer Naysun Alae-Carew. It's a decent piece that offers further insight into how the film came about although it often strays too close to talking heads EPK territory.
There's one deleted scene which wouldn't have added anything to the film - it's a nice enough moment taken out of context but trimming it makes a lot of sense.
The behind the scenes featurette is mostly redundant given the documentary covers most of the same ground in more detail and the outtakes/gag reel will likely raise a small smile rather than any significant chuckles. What is a little more fun is the cast and crew dub of the Hollywood Ending track from the film.
To round off, Zombie Musical is Ryan McHenry's award winning short that inspired Anna and the Apocalypse - its an enjoyable romp and it's great to see what the idea has grown into.