UK Release Date: 30th November 2018
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: John McPhail
Writer: Alan McDonald, Ryan McHenry
Starring: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye, Marli Siu, Ben Wiggins
Synopsis: A schoolgirl preparing to get out of her small Scottish town finds herself in the midst of a zombie epidemic that puts a real downer on the Christmas preparations.
At the beginning of the tremendously subversive horror movie The Cabin in the Woods back in 2012, a mundane depiction of office life is interrupted by a loud, imposing title card lifted straight from vintage genre fare. The same trick is deployed in Scottish director John McPhail‘s Anna and the Apocalypse, which interrupts a toe-tapping Christmas song in the Mariah Carey mould to deliver its deliciously trashy title. What follows is a joyous musical set at Christmas that just so happens to be taking place during a zombie epidemic.
The titular Anna (Ella Hunt) is introduced in the midst of a row with her dad (Mark Benton). He wants her to go to university, but she wants to see the world. That debate is soon relegated, however, when preparations for the school Christmas production are interrupted by the arrival of zombie hordes, who have absolutely no festive spirit. A ragtag bunch of students find themselves isolated at a bowling alley, keen to get back to the school in order to be reunited with their families – or at least those who have survived.
One of the key delights of Anna and the Apocalypse is the low-key feel of the setting. Just like obvious comparison point Shaun of the Dead, it takes great joy in stripping back the glamorous excesses of American zombie films in order to embrace the amiable naffness of small town Britain. Like Edgar Wright‘s movie, the protagonists here are initially blissfully unaware of their predicament, dancing and singing their way to school while remaining oblivious to the shambling undead. Moments later, via the medium of seesaw decapitation, the threat becomes impossible to ignore.
McPhail’s film walks the genre tightrope with the consummate skill of other Christmas genre tales like Gremlins and Black Christmas. The script by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry is incredibly funny and the festive charm is present and correct, but McPhail also never scrimps on the gore, realised through the medium of some impressively grotesque practical effects. If the best way to execute a genre hybrid movie is to lean heavily into all of those genres at once, Anna and the Apocalypse cannot be faulted.
It also leans in to its musical side, with a selection of excellent songs from musicians Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly. Highlights include the dining hall song and dance of ‘Hollywood Ending’ and Marli Siu‘s delightfully inappropriate ‘Santa Baby’ homage ‘It’s That Time of Year’. All of the cast members throw themselves wholeheartedly into the numbers, with Ella Hunt an effervescent lead presence and Paul Kaye coming into his own as a villainous schoolteacher when he is allowed to go full ham for one of the most bizarre musical sequences in any movie this year.
The film also deserves praise for boasting a surprisingly rich seam of emotion. When major characters are bitten, which they obviously are, the moments are given real weight and importance rather than just being enveloped by the action. McPhail excels at finding the quieter beats amidst his gory spectacle, and also finds the space to say something interesting about teenage reliance on technology. Rather than simply declaring smartphones to be evil, McPhail dissects his character’s connection to these devices as far more than “just glass and plastic”.
It’s one of many occasions on which Anna and the Apocalypse manages to transcend the trappings of its silly genre homage to be a far richer piece of work than anyone could have reasonably expected. While remaining a big, stupid zombie movie and a big, stupid Christmas movie, it manages to work as a musical and a comedy as well. Featuring a roster of terrific young stars giving it both barrels and some gruesome practical effects, it’s a force of festive nature that is going to play and play for years to come.
Pop or Poop?
Anna and the Apocalypse is the best film of 2018, and it’s a crying shame that so few eyes have been able to see it on these shores – its native land. The entire cast is fabulous and the musical numbers are immediately memorable. If there’s any justice, this is a movie that will only grow in esteem in the years to come in the way that only Christmas films really can. I’ll certainly be watching it every year for a splatter of blood on the baubles.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.