Movie Review: ‘ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE’ throws everything in the kitchen sink, and we’ll happily eat it up

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE

Rated R, 93 minutes.
Director: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli SiuMark Benton and Paul Kaye.

Ah, the apocalypse. The word synonymous with the end of civilization. In movies, the end of the world as we know it is usually framed by a natural disaster, nuclear war, an alien invasion, or, as with ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE, zombies. But zombies are a type of horror that can become stale quickly. The trick is usually to make them more visceral or change them from a plodding stalker to rabid hunter.

However, since 2004’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD, there have been a number of zombie movies that skew more toward comedy than horror. From zombies as a pet (FIDO) to romantic zombies (WARM BODIES), there are many examples within the past 15 years that have brought a new perspective on the walking dead. ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE decided to go a completely different route and tap into something new: the zombie musical.

Based on Ryan McHenry’s 2011 short ZOMBIE MUSICAL (he co-wrote ANNA with Alan McDonald), the movie follows the titular character (Ella Hunt) going through a bit of a crisis. Her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) let it slip to her dad (Mark Benton) that she wants to take a gap year after graduating to travel Australia. Also, her ex-boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins) is a jerk, and there’s the general malaise of high school.

Overnight, all Hell breaks loose as the zombie virus hits the quaint landscape of Little Haven. After escaping to the bowling alley where Anna and John work, they are cut off from everyone, along with their friend Chris (Christopher Leveaux) and classmate Steph (Sarah Swire). Meanwhile, at their school, Anna’s dad and Chris’s girlfriend Lisa (Marli Siu) have been in shelter since the Christmas pageant, under the eye of their sociopathic assistant principal Mr. Savage (Paul Kaye). They all plan to reunite and get the heck out of Dodge…once they get past all the zombies, of course.

Ella Hunt stars as the titular Anna in ‘ANNA IN THE APOCALYPSE.’ Courtesy of Orion Pictures.

The key to mixing genres – and part of the reason why ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE is so fun – is to pick a specific genre and pepper in elements while sticking to that framework. In this case, the movie is a musical, with elements of comedy and horror coming in as the story progresses. Sure, that viscera that comes with zombies and zombie attacks comes into play, and the cynicism of high schoolers creates a sarcastic rapport, but the musical elements are what is going to bring in the audience because of the original perspective it provides.

With original music written by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, the musical numbers are largely successful. “Hollywood Ending” is a great showstopper and will be the song most moviegoers will talk about. And “It’s That Time of Year”, sung by Lisa in the Christmas pageant, is a hilarious homage to the classic “Santa Baby.” The best number though must be “Turning My Life Around,” which is a duet between Anna and John. They’re leaving their houses to eventually meet up, singing this upbeat song with the zombie apocalypse happening behind them in each shot.

But then the movie becomes a bit disconnected in its overall tone, starting with the song “Human Voice.” It’s a fine song, but it is presented out of context, with the cast singing about technology and longing for a personal connection even though they’re with people. It’s a transition that disrupts the flow of everything rather than a smooth descent into the despair that Anna and. friends succumb to. Making their way back to the school leads to questionable decision-making which can turn a movie south in the eyes of the audience.

Eventually, the ship gets righted. The cast is more than game to keep the material going, putting the emotion on display as they sing with fervor. Ella Hunt is great as Anna, which keeps the viewer on track, and Malcolm Cumming is solid as the lovelorn best friend. Sarah Swire and Marli Siu almost steal the show though, as they present the most humanity with their roles. Director John McPhail does well to match the camerawork with the emotion being felt by everyone and allows these shots to help accentuate the mood. For example, during Savage’s number, the presentation is kinetic to show his descent into madness, as the kids try to figure out a solution.

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE does have its hiccups, but it’s something of a Christmas miracle. A musical, set in a Scotland high school, during Christmas, with zombies. The formula shouldn’t work, but with a cast and story that tries not to take itself too seriously, the movie allows the audience to enjoy the ride and have some fun. Sometimes, that’s all that matters.

Grade: B-

ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE is now playing in select theaters.

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