Entertainment » Movies

Anna and the Apocalypse

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Nov 29, 2018
'Anna and the Apocalypse'
'Anna and the Apocalypse'  

Scotland, and Christmas, and zombies, oh my! And did I mention musical numbers?

That's what you get with the delightful indie import "Anna and the Apocalypse," which is basically "Spring Awakening" meets "High School Musical" meets "Rocky Horror Picture Show." With zombies. And super-catchy tunes.

The clever genre mash-up was written by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry. McHenry is famous for creating the "Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal," vines and had come up with the idea for "Anna" after watching "High School Musical" and commenting that the only thing that would make it better is if Zac Efron was eaten by a zombie. Cut to 2011, when his short "Zombie Musical" was nominated for a 2011 British Academy Scotland New Talent Awards. A clear precursor to "Anna," McHenry was never able to achieve his dream of making a full length feature, as a long battle with cancer took his life in 2015.

Knowing how passionate he was about his story, his friends gathered together and decided to create his dream for him. Out of that, "Anna and the Apocalypse" was born.

A simple tale, "Anna" takes place in Scotland a few days before Christmas. Anna (the wonderful Ella Hunt) is planning on taking a year off after high school to travel, much to her father's chagrin. Her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) is secretly in love with her, and not too happy with her leaving him. At school, Steph (Sarah Swire) is bemoaning the fact her parents are in Mexico for Christmas and her girlfriend has other plans for the holiday. Filmmaker Chris (Christopher Leveaux) is getting grief from his visual arts teacher about his lack of creativity in his mid-term project, and his girlfriend Lisa (Marli Siu) is excited to perform in the school's Christmas Show, but worried Chris won't see her. This group starts the musical portion of the movie with a terrific pop ballad called "Break Away" that expresses their desire to move on from all their problems.

It is at this moment that you know whether or not this musical/comedy/horror movie hybrid is going to work or not. And it absolutely does. The song is touching, clever, and catchy and establishes our main group like traditional musicals do. The second song, "Hollywood Ending," brings a little of the tongue-in-cheek into play as the students all sing of the things not working out in their lives. The upbeat tune harkens back to shows like "Spring Awakening" and "American Idiot" in style and choreography, with a little bit of a wink-wink thrown in.

Meanwhile, the school's headmaster, Mr. Savage (Paul Kaye), lurks around hating on the kids while trying to promote himself as the best school leader ever.

But all this will change when the zombies arrive. Hilariously, after a heart to heart between Anna and John, the two wake up the next day in their respective houses, pop in their earbuds, and head to school as they sing "Turning My Life Around" - all while zombies attack the neighborhoods they warble and dance through.

As expected, our group will have to band together to save their families and friends and fight a slew of Christmas zombies. It's a hilarious, gory, toe-tapping good time, but, strangely enough, incredibly touching as well.

The script by McDonald and McHenry mixes genres brilliantly allowing the audience to not only get to know the characters, but really like them as well. When they are in danger, we care. And while the entire premise is completely nutty, there are truly heartbreaking and heartfelt moments throughout. It's not just a bit of goofy fun like "Shaun of the Dead." It's ludicrous and nutty, but it also has a story to tell with characters that are real and relatable.

The cast is uniformly fantastic with Hunt really breaking out here. She's able to combine the disgruntled teen with a girl who is self-sufficient and empathic. Her bestie played by Cumming is adorable, and Swire as the sweater-vest wearing lesbian is charmingly snarky and has a stellar voice to boot. Props must also be given to Kaye whose moustache-twirling turn as the villain headmaster is punctuated by a riotous showstopper reminiscent of "Rocky Horror" called "Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now."

Half the battle with musicals (stage or screen) falls on the music. It's a pleasure to say this film succeeds with songwriters Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly proving they just might be the next Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ("La La Land," "Dear Evan Hansen," "The Greatest Showman").

This is director John McPhail's second feature, and it's brilliantly staged. The film is vibrant and colorful, but keeps the craziness grounded with real people we grow fond of. When people die you care. When our main characters hurt, we hurt. And it's the brilliance of the entire creative team that makes this work.

Movies don't need to be heavy and serious to be considered one of the "best." And while it might be considered a bit of clever fluff, "Anna and the Apocalypse" is one of the best films of the year and one of my favorite films of 2018.

Anna and the Apocalypse

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.

Info

Runtime :: 92 mins
Release Date :: Nov 30, 2018
Language :: Silent
Country :: United Kingdom

Cast

Anna :: Ella Hunt
John :: Malcolm Cumming
Steph :: Sarah Swire
Chris :: Christopher Leveaux
Nick :: Ben Wiggins
Lisa :: Marli Siu
Tony :: Mark Benton
Savage :: Paul Kaye
Katie :: Ella Jarvis
Santa :: Calum Cormack

Crew

Director :: John McPhail
Screenwriter :: Alan McDonald
Screenwriter :: Ryan McHenry
Producer :: Naysun Alae-Carew
Executive Producer :: Tracy Brimm
Executive Producer :: Stephen Jarvis
Executive Producer :: Orion Lee
Executive Producer :: James Norrie
Cinematographer :: Sara Deane
Film Editor :: Mark Hermida
Original Music :: Roddy Hart
Original Music :: Tommy Reilly


Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.


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