Fantastic Fest Review: ‘ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE’ eats its own brains

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE

Rated R, 107 min.
Director: John McPhail
Cast: Ella HuntMalcolm CummingSarah SwireChristopher LeveauxBen Wiggins and Paul Kaye

Genre mashups can be fun, but you better make damn sure you know what tone you are trying to evoke.

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE is no doubt a crowd-pleaser that wears its heart on its bloody sleeve. That’s fine and well, but a Christmas-zombie-musical has got to have a reason for its existence other than, “Well, this sounds fun!”

In the film, a strange and unexplained epidemic afflicts the world, and slowly, Anna’s sleepy town starts to succumb to the violence and devastation of yet another zombie outbreak. Anna (Ella Hunt) and her best bud/wet blanket John (Malcolm Cumming) travel across town to track down her father, who works at her posh boarding school as a janitor.

Over the course of their journey, the duo run into a few friends Steph (Sarah Swire, who also choreographed the film) and Chris (Christopher Leveaux), and an ex-flame and professional douche Nick (Ben Wiggins). Their quest is to find their loved ones, and it never escalates to any sort of real climax as the creators appeared to be focused on the challenging aspect of shoehorning musical numbers into the plot.

The cast and filmmakers of ‘ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE’ at the 2017 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas on Friday, September 22, 2017. Photo courtesy of Jack Plunkett.

Before we go on listing reasons why this film doesn’t work, it should be noted that one of the writers of this film, Ryan McHenry (known for his viral Ryan Gosling – cereal videos), who originally was going to direct the film, sadly passed away before the film went into production. John McPhail stepped in with an energy and labor of love for a project that clearly meant a lot to its creators. So, props to them for making something they were passionate about, because this was a difficult project to realize.

That said, movie never quite found its groove, tonally, and lacks a sense of progression. Personally, the blame should be put on the musical aspect. It admittedly creates a spontaneous energy, but it’s a bit naive in its objective and lacking in execution, both metaphorically and on-screen as the zombie kills don’t sink their teeth into creativity.

While the plotting and erroneous elements of the film made its 107-minute run-time drag, the cast is undoubtedly talented. They have skills on their feet and a stage presence that quickly gets the music kicking with pop tunes and ballads that seem straight out of the Disney Channel. One can’t necessarily blame the talent involved, as ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE provides them with plenty of time to showcase their skills on-stage. Maybe its bombast is just is a matter of taste.

It’s high possible that titular star Hunt could find her niche in the BBC-esque genre world. Her facial expressions and plucky attitude could inspire filmmakers to write parts specifically for her.

It goes without saying that this film is inspired by Edgar Wright, SHAUN OF THE DEAD in particular, but that film was transcendent and was made 13 years ago. The moment of the zombie has already hit the fever pitch in the cultural zeitgeist and generates yawns more than shrieks. Even McPhail’s visual style and quick task-oriented editing, such as a car starting and a morning routine are ripped straight from Wright’s book.

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE made lots of festival-goers crack a smile, and it will do the same when it rolls out theatrically (On-Demand, likely). And it’s something that a filmmaking team’s ambitions vision got put to screen. However, we never ask if we should; only if we could. This horror mashup goes for the big bite, but only gets a nibble.

Grade: D

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE has an encore screening on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 12:15 a.m.