It’s not often you get a good excuse to have Christmas in March. But it’s also not often that you get to experience a festive movie that is also a Scottish zombie musical. Anna and the Apocalypse is something utterly unique and completely wonderful. It was my favourite movie of 2018 and the wait for a rewatch since I saw it at a November press screening last year has been agonising. The soundtrack on Spotify has been a helpful way to keep the flame alive, but now Anna and her friends have arrived on VOD in the UK, with the DVD release to come in two weeks.
If the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cinema release over the festive period last year passed you by – and I wouldn’t blame you for that – allow me to get you up to speed. Anna (Ella Hunt) is a schoolgirl in Scotland preparing to eschew uni for a globe-trotting journey to exotic lands, despite the wishes of her father (Mark Benton). On the night of the school’s Christmas show, however, zombies turn up to throw a bit of a spanner into the works. What follows is a desperate fight for survival, peppered with musical numbers.
The overriding feeling about Anna and the Apocalypse is one of exquisite tonal juggling. Director John McPhail knows exactly what he is doing in terms of making sure that none of the various genres and tones clash with each other, from the macabre excess of the largely practical gore effects to the toe-tapping melody of the songs from duo Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly. It’s a zombie horror and a high school movie as much as it is a musical and it also never forgets its festive setting. Die Hard might throw in the odd Santa hat and call itself a Christmas story, but there’s no doubting Anna‘s seasonal credentials.
As well as its ingenious, genre-mixing premise, the film benefits from a series of excellent performances from the young cast. Ella Hunt anchors everything terrifically as the driven and single-minded Anna, hoping to escape from her small town home and the bad choices she has made while living there – a romance with Ben Wiggins‘s hyper-macho scumbag being chief among them. Malcolm Cumming is a comic highlight as Anna’s best mate, who boasts an enormous unrequited crush on her, and Sarah Swire steals scenes both emotionally and, when the singing starts, vocally as an American alone in a strange country while the carnage begins.
And that carnage is achieved with nothing other than absolute glee by McPhail and his team. This is a movie where bowling balls, toilet seats and Playstation controllers are all valid weapons for zombie destruction and a seesaw in a children’s playground becomes a legitimately brutal instrument of death. There’s a really elegant balance between cathartic gore and legitimate horror in the violence. When one character sadly declares that “this isn’t fun any more”, the audience certainly feels their pain.
McPhail’s film does not shy away from the implications of the zombie epidemic either. There are frank discussions about infected relatives and, each time a character is bitten, the movie allows the weight of that moment to sink in for the audience. These characters are not just frothy comedic personas. They’re living, breathing people and so it’s shocking and powerful when they are no longer living or breathing. McPhail mostly avoids sensational scenes of melodrama and ultimately allows some of his most emotive gut punches to unfold in a surprisingly low-key fashion for a movie that features splashy gore and frequent song-and-dance outbursts.
But it’s not just the zombies who serve as a threat to these characters. Paul Kaye is on deliriously vicious form as the aptly named teacher Savage, who sees the unfolding chaos as simply another opportunity to assert his bureaucratic superiority over everyone else. His late in the day solo song features Kaye turning every element of his performance all of the way up to eleven and beyond. Savage is a villain who proves that most classic of horror movie adages – human beings are the biggest monsters of them all.
As much as it’s willing to make political and social points occasionally – there’s some smart commentary about the importance of smartphones to modern teens and it’s easy to read much of the film’s action as a metaphor for our current political malaise – Anna and the Apocalypse mostly just wants to have fun. It’s a riotous festive treat of a movie that goes down just as well in the dying days of March as it does with a bowl of Christmas pudding. This is certainly a film I’ll be revisiting at Christmas – and probably throughout the year as well.
Anna and the Apocalypse is available on digital HD in the UK now and will hit DVD on 8th April.
Have you seen Anna and the Apocalypse? Will you be picking up the film when it arrives on DVD, or giving it a go on VOD platforms? Let me know in the comments section.