Scottish import Anna and the Apocalypse delivers precisely what the premise promises: a zombie high school Christmas musical. Depending on how you feel about that combination of words, your mileage may vary. Personally, I find it largely delightful.
Every time I say this movie or that movie is destined to be my new holiday go-to, it winds up that I forget it exists and rarely or never revisit. (See The Night Before, which I saw, loved, and forgot about until I caught a few minutes on cable the other day—it holds up pretty well.) When I say that about Anna and the Apocalypse, however, I think I believe it. This is funny and warm and sweet and gory as hell. It’s cheap and lo-fi, but in a charming, endearing fashion that enhances the overall package—think the scrappy underdog of high school horror musicals.
The plot revolves around Anna (Ella Hunt). A typical high school student in a typically boring town, she deals with typical high school problems. She has an overbearing father (Mark Benton), a best friend who’s not-so-secretly in love with her (Malcolm Cumming), an ex who spreads tawdry rumors about her (Ben Wiggins), a tyrannical head master (Paul Kaye), and a laundry list of other problems. And then there is the zombie apocalypse that shows ups, throws a wrench in everybody’s works, and somehow exacerbates these problems while adding a new, flesh-hungry wrinkle.
And, of course, since this is a musical, these players occasionally burst into choreographed song and dance numbers at a moment’s notice along the way. Not all of the songs are great and memorable, but the good ones are bangers and ear worms you may randomly hum for the next week or so. “Hollywood Ending,” “Break Away,” and “Turning My Life Around” are the standouts IMO.
Anna and the Apocalypse does get away from the musical numbers in the middle, and it’s here that the film is weakest. Not just because of a lack of memorable tunes, but the momentum flags, the focus blurs, and the whole thing meanders around for a while unsure of exactly what it wants to accomplish. It’s not terrible, it’s just not particularly interesting or engaging for a chunk of time in the middle.
Overall, the cast has a nice, natural chemistry, and Hunt offers a compelling lead. The script from Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry touches on a variety of key topics. Anna deals with all of the bullshit young women so often have to confront. On one hand, there’s John (Cumming), the “nice guy” who adores her from afar (ish) and feels like he’s owed something. On the other, there’s Nick (Wiggins), the hunky jock spreading nefarious slut-shaming lies about her to mask his own insecurities. There’s also the aptly named Savage (Kaye), a despotic bully of a school administrator. It’s obvious why Anna finds this all so frustrating and wants to run far, far away. I appreciate the frankness of how the script deals with these issues and things like sexuality. Steph (Sarah Swine) has a girlfriend, which is treated as a matter of fact. Their relationship sucks, but no one bats an eye that she’s gay, that’s a natural part of the texture, even in their diminutive hamlet.
Maybe not earth-shattering, Anna and the Apocalypse is earnest, adorable, toe-tapping, bloodier than your average musical, and packs a handful of legitimate emotional wallops. They’re easily anticipated and visible a mile off, but they’re handled well and earned. If anything about a zombie high school zombie musical with catchy songs appeals to you, this is your movie. I suggest watching with a crowd or a gathering of like-minded friends and clearing a slot in your upcoming holiday movie rotation. [Grade: B]