Anna And The Apocalypse Review
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) | Dir. John McPhail | Cast: Christopher Leveaux, Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire | Writers: Alan McDonald, Ryan McHenry
Truly getting its start in 1968 with the release of George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, the zombie sub-genre of horror is one that has received exponentially more attention in the last decade. The Walking Dead was met with international acclaim and popularity in 2010, and you can now buy zombie merchandise of almost anything, from baby grows to shower mats. Basically - they aren't too intimidating anymore, and making a genuinely scary zombie film isn't the easiest task. So it's understandable that director of Anna and the Apocalypse wanted to give this tired concept a new twist by using both comedic and musical elements, as well as setting it at Christmas. Sadly, rather than lifting the film, adding in all these elements ends up bogging it down.
Set in a secondary school in Scotland, the film follows Anna as she confronts the apocalypse through songs, jokes and jingle bells alongside her friends: John, her lovestruck best mate, Steph, the school outcast, Lisa, the peppy theatre kid, and Chris, Lisa's dopey boyfriend. This plot is punctuated at various points by nine different musical numbers, a pretty large number for the 97 minute running time, that all have a rock-pop feel. Inevitably, these songs will be a matter of personal taste, but I leaned towards finding them at best a little catchy and at worst entirely obnoxious, and the majority of them all sounded the same. If I had to choose a personal favourite, it would be the 'Hollywood Ending' song, mostly as it clearly lays out the motivations of every character, or Lisa's solo 'It's That Time Of Year', just because of how joyfully silly it is.
But my aversion to the musical styling is by no means a reflection on the quality of the performances. These are all excellent across the board, and every actor has an unbelievable amount of energy, especially in regard to how enthusiastically they perform the admittedly impressive choreography. For me, the standout performances came from Marli Siu as Lisa, who manages to balance her overly peppy character with a tinge of sweetness, and the always brilliant Mark Benton as Anna's dad Tony, whose sincerity brings some much needed emotional stakes.
I just wish other serious character relationships were built up so well early on. As the film is constantly flip-flopping between humour and tragedy, some of the complexity isn't as developed as it could be, and the fact that the narrative sometimes stops dead for the sake of a song doesn't help this issue. By the end of Anna and the Apocalypse, which by the way is bizarrely and unfittingly morose, you don't find yourself feeling much for any of the characters, particularly those left alive. Making this situation worse is the fact that the nature and scale of the apocalypse is hardly established, so the external dangers are ultimately rather confusing.
Though I think the Christmas theme is largely unnecessary to the plot, I did appreciate the resulting production design. Where most zombie movies have a palette of dirt brown and blood red only, Anna and the Apocalypse isn't afraid to inject some colour, through fairy lights, Christmas trees, and her eventual candy cane weapon. The cinematography, while not particularly notable, displays this fun mise-en-scene well, and has enough energy itself to keep up with the frantic onscreen action. With that being said, the editing does often try to ape Edgar Wright's distinctive cuts, famously utilized in Shaun of the Dead, but can't quite match his humour and precision. This isn't the only element lifted from Wright's movie - the scene in which Anna waltzes to school unaware of the chaos around her is taken straight from Shaun's jaunt to the corner shop.
I admire the boldness of this movie. I enjoyed its charm and the huge amount of effort and love put into it. I especially appreciated the school setting, as someone who loves a good coming-of-age movie. But despite both of these facts, I don't think the concepts on show work when meshed together - to summarise, Anna and the Apocalypse is fun in theory, messy in execution.