Anna and the Apocalypse, directed by John McPhail, is a Scottish Christmas zombie musical high school drama. The mix and match approach is always a dangerous game; but exactly what attracted me with carefully hopeful expectations at Helsinki International Film Festival. I am happy to say, that my expectations were jollily exceeded.
Of course, with a premise like that, no one could expect Anna and the Apocalypse to be anything but a goofy film – and it proudly claims to be just that in the best possible way. Anna (Ella Hunt) lives normal life as a teenager, dreaming of travelling far away from the sleepy town she lives in. Her father (Mark Benton) is protective and does not approve. Everything changes with the upraising of the dead. Anna and her friends John (Malcolm Cumming), Lisa (Marli Siu), Chris (Christopher Leveaux) and Steph (Sarah Swire) have to face their fears with anything they can grab to crush a zombie's head in hopes to protect their loved ones.
Even without this kind of crazy mixture of genres, musicals are a difficult art to tackle and most often need a big budget to hit every little detail home. It would be interesting to know what was the budget for this movie; there are points where one would wish for more caution within musical sequences. However, the balance has been sustained well with the seemingly purposeful overall styling of the film. There is a sense of homemade-ness throughout the film; Christmas decorations and set design for a school winter celebration only heighten the effect, and any clumsiness is easy to forgive. Choreographs work well, and the tongue in cheek approach turns the structure of the musical scenes into self-reflexive moments.
Even if musical numbers might need bit more polish, that is not to say that the cast is not doing a great job. Young Ella Hunt portrays the leading lady Anna, her longing for adventure and care for family and friends with confidence. As a character, Anna is a good lesson on teenage girls; she could be any girl ever, and she has no fear of filling the hero’s boots. The other young actors are doing a great job as well, and especially Marli Siu shines with promise as Lisa – it seems like we will hear of her, just wait and see. Ben Wiggins as douche-y Nick blesses us with the most intense musical number of the film with baseball bat in his hand, challenging even the iconic number “I Don't Dance” from High School Musical 2. (Yes, I am really making this comparison and I am only partially ironic.)
This is just some of the key characters as I cannot mention all of them in detail separately, which leads us to the real downside of the film; pacing. Where the characters are sympathetic, there is just too many people and thus too much happening too quick. Balancing some of the more ridiculous aspects of the film, the story is not scared of showing the gruesome part of a zombie apocalypse either. While this “realism” is needed to keep the scales even, towards the end we see a lot of death and the balance shifts. After a film so joyously bonkers, you just won’t have enough emotional attachment left to go very deep into grief with the characters.
Overall, I was still surprised to find myself so touched with the film. It is mostly due the rawness of the young protagonists and their feelings; you can be confused, everything can seem to be wrong, and when literal zombies attack your feelings do not just simply go away. It is natural to crave for
brains adventure, love, and a Hollywood ending.
Anna and the Apocalypse is showing in Kiln Theatre in London next week. I really do love this movie, so I wholeheartedly recommend to see it if you have a chance! I know I will definitely purchase a DVD as soon as possible to add it to my Christmas movie traditions.