A British Christmas zombie musical is a film subgenre we never thought we’d want, but John McPhail’s Anna and the Apocalypse makes us realise that it is exactly the one we need.
It’s the day of Christmas Eve in the sleepy town of Little Haven and for Anna and her friends it is no different from every other school day: running late to class, working hard to get into the universities of their dreams, and getting ready for their annual Christmas show. Just don’t ask why they’re at school on Christmas Eve (I’m still trying to figure it out myself). Little do they know that by the next day their school crush woes (the subject of fun song ‘Hollywood Ending’) will be the least of their worries. These instead will be replaced with the need to avoid the undead. Will Anna, John, Steph, and Chris make the journey across town to school to find their loved ones in one piece? Will their musical numbers protect them from being bitten? Regardless, it’s a story that will have you screaming and singing along.
This genre mash-up, based on the 2010 BAFTA-winning short Zombie Musical, is delightfully fun and surprisingly effective. As Anna wakes up on Christmas day and dances her way into school oblivious of the zombie slaughter happening just behind her, hysterics ensue. Setting the film at Christmas serves to underline the emotionality of the film - it’s one thing to lose a loved one to a zombie, but it’s another for that to happen on the so-called happiest day of the year. The film decidedly avoids wandering too deeply into the horror genre (the zombies are only scary because they are zombies) instead playing up the romp and ridiculous musical aspects. As it progresses and the situation becomes less and less hopeful, Anna and the Apocalypse moves in directions you couldn’t possibly expect. And the film is all the better for it.
When it comes to musicals, personal preference is often the killer (or should that be zombie?) but composers Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly successfully strike a balance between modernity and the more traditional musical soundtracks. Songs such as ‘Miles Away’ and ‘Soldier at War’ are doused in a self-awareness of genre that makes them so difficult to not bop along to. They’re peppy and playful, and always well integrated into the story. Not every song is going to get stuck in your head, one playing out near the very end of the film is a little cringeworthy, but it’s safe to say this film has as much beat as it does bite.
Ella Hunt, as determined Anna, is a lead that you can truly get behind. She might look exactly like every other girl in her school but she has a fierceness and a forceful love for her family and friends that makes her stand out from the crowd. Alongside her is her ragtag team of zombie fighters, consisting of Malcolm Cumming as the hopelessly lovestruck John, Sarah Swire as the do-gooder whose good-deeds make up for her loneliness, and Christopher Leveaux as camera-savvy comic relief Chris.
The four have a great dynamic between them, it’s not hard to believe that they’re just a group of friends plunged into this terrifying situation. This chemistry is thrown into difficulty when bad-boy Nick (Ben Wiggins) comes to their rescue and promises to help them get to school. These five young actors are all relative newcomers, and not only do they deliver compelling and comedic performances but they do it with so much fun that it’s not only the zombie virus that’s contagious.