Every so often a movie comes along where, a few minutes into it exploding across the screen, you know you’re witnessing the birth of something special. Call it a crowdpleaser, call it a future cult classic, call it the next big thing, but regardless of the name you apply to it, Anna & the Apocalypse is a winner.
Over the course of the last decade, almost every studio imaginable has attempted to make a musical mash-up. It’s basically done to death by now, though it doesn’t necessarily take reinventing the wheel to succeed. Simply putting the equation of “zombies + Christmas + teen comedy + songs” together should be enough. That it works so well and feels so effortless could be the most surprising aspect.
Anna & the Apocalypse seems rather unassuming for the first five minutes, setting up a few stock characters, with their rather basic motivations, things feel like they may dovetail quite quickly. Then the music starts. It feels High School Musical-y and that’s on purpose. Theatricality is the name of the game here, imbuing the film with a liveliness that seems lacking from most traditional musicals when they make their way from the stage. “Break Away” helps further establish characters, backed by some rather luscious cinematography.The night of the Christmas talent show has the denizens of a small Scottish town bumbling through their lives, totally unaware that things are about to turn very sour. The focus though is on several Seniors at the local High School, and above else, Anna (a sensational Ella Hunt). She longs to get out of the small town she feels is holding her and her close friends John (Malcolm Cummings), Lisa (Marli Siu), Chris (Christopher Leveaux) and Steph (Sarah Swire, who also serves as choreographer) back.
Even with the zombies kept shuffling off screen for the initial half hour, Anna & the Apocalypse commands attention. There’s a vibrancy in the way characters interact, only to break into song at the perfectly preordained time. Often, this would be a demerit of sorts, but here, the language of the film winks at the audience, assuring them it’s all on purpose. What’s more, the songs are brilliant. Ranging from inventively catchy to quite possibly the most deliciously innuendo-filled holiday song ever. It’s a line-up of original material that is sure to have audiences everywhere demanding the soundtrack as they finish their viewing.
When the shambling heralds of the end of days do arrive (zombies, if you are confused), it’s done so in a scene that almost bests Simon Pegg’s oblivious jaunt through town in Shaun of the Dead. High praise, yes, but it’s entirely deserved. The fact that this scene leads to a great beheading and one of the best comedic screams in a long time, helps cement the footing. Director John McPhail has a deft hand when it comes to subverting expectations. He also fully knows when genre conventions should be doled out to an audiences expecting the goods.Top to bottom, there isn’t really a false beat. Cinematography is sweeping and lovingly hugs the corners of a wide frame. The make-up department does a great job bringing the zombies to life, while still sticking mostly to a simple look. Gorehounds will be happy that grue aplenty is strewn about, becoming more and more prominent as the movie churns along. Even the supporting cast leaves a mark, though it mostly comes down to the presence of Mark Brenton and Paul Kaye. The latter absolutely steals the film any time he graces the screen, with a manic twinkle in his eye. Part of what makes Anna special though, is that all the performances are excellent. Everyone gets a moment to shine or showcase their talents. It’s commendable to the talents on screen that many groups of viewers will likely be arguing about who the best character or song possibly was.
It’s easy to gush about the film and be seen as simply hyperbolic, but it can’t be stressed enough that viewing Anna & the Apocalypse feels like finding something special. There’s so much joy infused into each scene and set piece. Every high kick, belted note or decapitated head deserves a round of applause. The apocalypse has never been this joyous or fun. So make some room on your slate now, as you have a new holiday classic to add immediately to your holiday rotation.