In the Scottish genre mix ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE Teens dance, sing and fight their way through the zombie apocalypse that breaks out shortly before Christmas. It sounds like a parody or trash, but it is an extremely good musical that deserves to become a Christmas cult. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
There are only a few days left until Christmas and preparations for the annual holiday show are in full swing at the high school in the tranquil Scottish town of Little Haven. The strict headmaster Savage terrorizes the participants with his high demands, while the singer Lisa, who knows no subtlety, intimidates her friends with her kitschy stage set. Meanwhile, Lisa’s friend Chris gets into trouble in the media group because his video project doesn’t have enough meaning and depth. The reserved Steph, on the other hand, has almost the opposite problem: her planned article for the school blog is blocked by Savage because it is too inflammatory. And to make matters worse, there isn’t a soul in the country that she cares about right now. Meanwhile, John, who dreams of a future as an artist, is worried because he still hasn’t heard back from the college of his choice. His best friend Anna, with whom he is secretly in love, is a stranger to this frustration. After the death of her mother and the separation from the arrogant bully Nick, she has a clear goal in mind: After graduating, Anna wants to leave college behind and travel the world instead, which her father Tony harshly criticizes…
Movie explanation of the ending
The poster already gives it away, the trailer does, and the title, which is accompanied by ominous sounds, makes no secret of it either: What starts out like a Christmas high school musical comedy becomes over the course of just over 90 minutes running time result in a zombie film. Before this threatening shadow, which is mentioned shortly after the title appears in the radio news that the protagonists ignore, actually falls over Little Haven, director John McPhail introduces the highly likeable group of characters around which “Anna and the Apocalypse” revolves. And what McPhail is making here, based on a script by Alan McDonald and filmmaker Ryan McHenry, who died of bone cancer in 2015, is nowhere near as ironic and trashy a film as one might expect given the colorful mix of genres. Quite the opposite: The impending zombie apocalypse is announced through a few ominous omens and pointedly false leads in the “Shaun of the Dead” style, but a fundamentally honest heart beats inside this musical comedy.
The still clueless Anna (Ella Hunt) sings and dances through her zombie-infested neighborhood.
Lead actress Ella Hunt plays a huge part in this: the “Cold Feet” and “Les Misérables” actress has an enormous screen presence and fills the role of the frustrated Anna, who is nevertheless hopeful for the future, with charm, wit and a believable disorientation. When Anna sings with an exasperated expression about the fact that the whole high school love mess is getting on her nerves, only to shortly afterwards, with cheeky, proudly distorted corners of her mouth and singing, state that life doesn’t happen like a Hollywood film, Hunt does it fluctuating mood nuances are plausible. This “I’m not in the mood for any of this”-Attitude Annas quickly thaws when she makes innocent jokes with her best friend John – or when she starts a new morning with a zest for action. Unsteady teenage emotions, which Hunt reconciles in a personable way and with an engaging singing voice. In addition to Hunt, Sarah Swire particularly stands out from the “Anna and the Apocalypse” ensemble: As a budding journalist who feels unloved and seeks distraction in her social engagements, Swire immediately takes over several scenes. Like Hunt, Swire masters the tonal balancing act of Anna and the Apocalypse impressively. She is just as enthusiastic when Steph awkwardly makes small talk, struggles to open up to her counterpart, or oscillates between desperate offensive and cautious defensive in the face of danger.
Swire is also responsible for the choreographies and shows promising talent in this regard too. “Anna and the Apocalypse” foregoes large showstopper movement sequences, instead relying primarily on small, playful dances that perfectly suit the characters. However, she doesn’t miss out on a lively cafeteria group dance scene that has slight parallels to “High School Musical.” The rest of the cast does a good job across the board: Marli Siu appears as the jittery Lisa, as if the young Anne Hathaway had been possessed by the “High School Musical” villain Sharpay Evans, portrayed by Ashley Tisdale, and Malcolm Cumming, in turn, manages an entertaining variation of the character geeky, shy buddies. Ben Wiggins is equal parts impressively cool and annoyingly cocky as the bully Nick, and Paul Kaye is straight out of some wacky Disney cartoon as the diabolical headmaster (and picked up a dirtier vocabulary on the way to this live-action film).
John (Malcolm Cumming) and Anna are still happy…
When zombie horror descends on Little Haven, it’s first in a lively musical response to the hungover morning routine of “Shaun of the Dead.” As soon as this song leads to a comic-like kill that sprays a lot of blood, the dance that unites cinematic styles that McPhail performs with “Anna and the Apocalypse” becomes even more complex – which the film masters effortlessly. With elegant ease, McPhail jumps from ironic and reverent genre references to insane and wonderfully casual, down-to-earth dialogue jokes. Just as deftly, McPhail switches from wildly fun zombie carnage to moments of suspense in which we root for the characters that we have grown to love over the course of this crazy, idiosyncratic Christmas film. The action is accompanied by a soundtrack full of catchy tunes that does justice to the cinematic mix of styles by serving a wide range of musical genres: In “Anna and the Apocalypse” there is, among other things, a punky, megalomaniacal headmaster solo and the rocking anthem of a juvenile zombie fighting squad and a breathtakingly beautiful song about the (overcoming) pull of digital communication. And of course a Christmas song that is so, so innocently sung, so, so ambiguous should not be missing – as a highly comedic counterbalance to some of the more sincere songs, through which the characters gain depth.
All of this takes place against Ryan Clachrie’s colorful backdrops and finds its place even more accurately between tongue-in-cheek homage, zombie suspense and Christmas youth comedy fun thanks to Fi Morrison’s costume work, which subtly underlines the character of each character. McPhail and camerawoman Sara Deane also capture the action with a keen eye: Although some of the exterior shots have an artificial, slightly overexposed shine and lack a certain depth effect, the interior scenes after the onset of the zombie catastrophe efficiently build up atmosphere thanks to dim light sources. McPhail consistently succeeds in subliminally adapting the imagery to the prevailing tone of voice and thus nimbly uniting the different film worlds. The same applies to Mark Hermida’s editing, which knows how to underline the humor of excessive slapstick violence as well as the warmth of the quieter moments or the suspense of those moments in which danger could be lurking around every corner. In short: What starts as a funny and crazy idea becomes a subversive and warm-hearted feel-good-be-shocked musical in which you root for the characters you love. “Anna and the Apocalypse” is a true genre gem.
Zombie snowman is also at the start.
Conclusion: An enjoyable zombie film homage, a witty and gripping Christmas film, a Scottish high school comedy with a genuinely beating heart and by far the best musical of the film year: “Anna and the Apocalypse” is an extraordinary, rousing genre mixture full of catchy tunes.
“Anna and the Apocalypse” can be seen in many USA cinemas from December 6, 2018.