When you think of zombie comedies, it’s difficult to look beyond the witty brilliance that is Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004). Whilst we’ve had our share of interesting takes on the walking dead in the years since, the arrival of Anna and the Apocalypse stands as the choreographed high-kick the genre needed. Not only an immensely entertaining zombie comedy in its own right, director John McPhail and writers Ryan McHenry and Alan McDonald have opted to further mash genres with the film adopting the Christmas season as its backdrop amongst teen romance and the catchiest musical numbers. Funny and romantic, appropriately gory, and deliriously catchy, Anna and the Apocalypse could very well be the new standard for genre expectations.
When we meet the titular Anna (the incredibly likeable Ella Hunt) it’s evident that her current life situation is one riddled with conflict. She has the desire to temporarily forego university studies in a bid to travel the world (Australia being her destination of choice), but her father (Mark Benton) has his own plans for her future. Then there’s her love-lorn best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) and her douchey semi-boyfriend Nick (Ben Wiggins), both who despise each other and are only adding to her current anxiety over her life choices rather than subduing it. If that wasn’t bad enough, a zombie apocalypse (one that isn’t overtly explained, as has become tradition in the genre) has taken over the sleepy town of Little Haven and is promptly transforming the townsfolk into hungry flesh-eaters. Now, Anna’s future is less teen-angsty and more dependent on survival as her and her friends rally together in a bid to save themselves and their loved ones.
From the opening moments of Anna and the Apocalypse there’s an obvious energy bellowing beneath the surface, and though the zombie action doesn’t take too long a time to come into play, the first few sequences of this infectious comedy play more like a straight musical of sorts, with Anna and her teen cohorts singing of their worries in a manner that wouldn’t seem entirely out of place in Glee or High School Musical; you’d be hard pressed to not find yourself enjoying the Top 40 mentality of such original tunes as “Break Away” and “Hollywood Ending”.
The musical is always a tricky genre to master skilfully, as is the combination of horror and comedy, so it is indeed to the film’s credit that it manages to balance its components with relative ease. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this film is terrifying in any manner, but it does offer up a neat tense sequence or two, not to mention providing one hell of a villain (Paul Kaye‘s principal Savage is glorious in all his OTT Grinch-ness) and plenty of appropriate blood splattering when the occasion calls for it.
What ultimately stands out for Anna and the Apocalypse is the music though, with the soundtrack providing a healthy blend of festive sounds (Shonagh Murray’s credit opener “Christmas Means Nothing Without You” makes for a fine mood setter), story-centric absurdities (Kaye’s Brit-rock inspired “Nothing Gonna Stop Me Now”) and up-tempo pop numbers (“Turning My Life Around” by Hunt and Cumming is particularly catchy) to keep you at once invested and immensely entertained.
Likely to be the type of film that will be discovered over time and earn itself something of a cult status, Anna and the Apocalypse is worth seeking out for comedy enthusiasts who like their humour with a hefty bite, horror lovers who can appreciate their genre adopting a softer mindset, and musical fans who are already used to the absurdities of the medium that I’d wager a little blood (maybe more than a little if i’m being honest) won’t detract from the enjoyment of a catchy number detailing one’s R-rated plans for Santa Claus.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Anna and the Apocalypse is in select cinemas from November 30th 2018