Anna and the Apocalypse
A Zombie Apocalypse breaks out at Christmas forcing a group of friends to run, fight and sing their way through the undead hordes in an effort to reach their families in John McPhail’s musical Anna and the Apocalypse.
I personally quite like a musical. The Greatest Showman almost made it onto my best of the year list so the prospect of a tongue in cheek Zombie Apocalypse musical was definitely of interest to me. I’m glad to say the end result didn’t disappoint. Anna and the Apocalypse is a really endearing mash-up of Shaun of the Dead and the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer musical episode. It also happens to be a movie set at Christmas and it certainly belongs on the list of annual Yuletide re-watches.
The protagonist is Anna (Ella Hunt); a conflicted high school student in her final year with no real idea what she wants to do next. Her heart is being pulled in the direct of a travelling gap year while her father’s expectations have her going off to university. One of the major themes of the film is Anna taking control of her life and finding the strength to make a decision that puts her life in the direction she wants it to go. It’s a good basis for a protagonist and Anna is constantly engaging throughout. Her internal conflict feels believable and the way she approaches each decision she makes works within the context of the story.
Of course many of those decisions involve the best way to take on the assembling undead but she shows a lot of lateral thinking and intuition when it comes to combatting that particular problem which can easily be applied to the way she sees the world and her place in it. Ella Hunt is great in the role; she makes Anna tough enough to deal with what she is presented with but also gives her a lot of vulnerability as well as being stroppy and headstrong like a teenager should helping to round her out into a 3 Dimensional character worthy of carrying the film. She also has a great singing voice as would be required of the lead in a musical.
Her friends John (Malcolm Cumming), Steph (Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Lisa (Marli Su) and her -sort of- ex-boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins) accompany her for varying lengths of time throughout the film and behave very much like an ensemble cast forming behind a lead. John’s defining trait is that he has the hots for her, Steph feels abandoned by her family and laments being apart from her girlfriend, Chris and Lisa are a couple who are annoyingly into each other and Nick is an arrogant chauvinist who has more depth than he lets on. Together they make for a good group and the acting/singing averages out as good when considering them all together but this is very much Anna’s show and the film makes no attempt to convince the audience otherwise.
Other than the Zombies the closest thing the film’s antagonist is the campy/evil headmaster appropriately named Mr. Savage (Paul Kaye). He’s a little too over the top which puts him at odds with a story that plays it straight more often than not but for sheer entertainment value he ticks a lot of the boxes and has great screen presence. A lot of simple tricks are used to make the audience hate him and there’s no denying that it works really well. His singing voice leaves a lot to be desired but Paul Kaye hams up his performance magnificently and it’s a nice touch to make the headmaster the villain in a high school set Zombie story.
It’s a very good looking film with impressive production design and lots of variety in the Zombie make-up. This is combined with some really creative set pieces such as a battle for survival in a bowling alley that comes across as endlessly entertaining. There are also some fun makeshift weapons used to dispatch the Zombies that also never become too repetitive. It definitely works as a tongue in cheek Zombie movie with lots of effort put into that particular side of it.
With this being a musical it will largely rise and fall on the quality of the songs. Of course this will be down to personal taste and I would personally say that I loved the songs in this film. Everything you would expect to be included turns up at one time or another such as a choreographed number designed to establish characters, a shared ballad that summaries the situation at that point, the villain’s song where he tries to justify his feelings and other such required musical numbers. There is a strong musical through line with every song feeling like it belongs to this film without coming across as overly repetitive. It’s a difficult balance to get right and this film definitely manages it though there aren’t enough musical numbers compared to the running time which unfortunately means there are long stretches spent waiting for the next song to kick in. Either a shorter running time or more songs would have fixed that and considering the overall quality on display I’d be inclined to go with the latter.
A well made, endearing Christmas Zombie musical with strong characterisation, impressive production values and excellent music. The lead character of Anna is really engaging with a strong performance adding depth to her while also carrying the story. Her supporting cast average out as good though it’s clear that this is Anna’s show. From a production standpoint the film does really well with creative set pieces, impressive Zombie make-up and a variety of makeshift weapons helping to prevent the film from feeling repetitive. The songs are also great, striking the balance between belonging to the film and feeling varied admirably. There aren’t enough songs compared to the running time which could either have been solved by having a shorter running time or more musical numbers and based on my enjoyment level I’m inclined to want the latter.
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