Anna and the Apocalypse (2017) (Director’s Cut)Sushant Dhume
Plot: A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.
Review: Anna (Ella Hunt) is counting days till school ends and she can go on a trip to Australia far away from her sleepy little town. Her widowed father on finding out about the trip doesn’t take the news of her wanting to skip university lightly. Her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) has unrequited romantic feelings for her but she has eyes for the school’s bad boy Nick (Ben Wiggins). Steph (Sarah Swire) is a transfer student dealing with long-distance relationships, neglectful parents, all the while butting heads with the tyrannical school headmaster Arthur Savage (Paul Kaye). When one fine morning Anna wakes up to find herself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse all hell ends up breaking loose. All on their own Anna and her friends try to sing, slash and survive the apocalypse.
Even though it’s called ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ this is not just Anna’s story. It is very much an ensemble piece with almost equal focus on Sarah Swire’s Steph, Malcolm Cumming’s John, Christopher Leveaux’s Chris and Marli Siu’s Lisa, Paul Kaye’s headmaster Arthur Savage and Anna’s father Tony played by Mark Benton. Sarah Swire to me is the clear standout performance-wise. Her character has an aloof exterior but she is emotionally empathetic from the inside and Swire plays her with a quirky playfulness which I really liked. Ella Hunt as the titular character is also quite good. Although her character does come across as a Mary Sue. Hunt however does possess star quality. She also does a pretty convincing superhero landing pose in the movie (Marvel, DC execs maybe should take note). Almost all the characters here sadly come across as stock characters but I still ended up caring for most of them and it is because of the actors who successfully elevated the characters by injecting bits of quirkiness and relatability into them. I also didn’t care much for Paul Kaye’s performance as the villainous headmaster Arthur Savage. It’s as if he took the fact that he was in a musical too seriously going full theatrical which when compared to everyone else’s fairly grounded approach sticks out like a sore thumb. And as his character’s arc is way too extreme, which when combined with his broad performance makes his character come across as cartoonish.
The film is based on 2011 short called ‘Zombie Musical’ which was written and directed by Ryan McHenry. Sadly McHenry passed away in 2015 while the film was still in the nascent stage of development. The film is dedicated to him and he is also given a co-writing credit with Alan McDonald. Now as I mentioned above the characterization here is pretty generic. Also, the tonal shift in the story doesn’t feel gradual as the first act plays like a teen dramedy, the second is more in line with a horror comedy and the third act fully engulfs itself in grim and gloom making the shift seem quite extreme. The musical aspect is the only constant in all three acts.
The music and lyrics are by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly. All the songs here are extremely catchy with “Break Away” and “Hollywood Ending” being my favorites. The cast performed their own parts in the songs and they all did a commendable job with Ella Hunt and Malcolm Cumming’s singing being the standout for me.
The direction by John McPhail shines bright when it comes to the picturization of the musical numbers. The choreography compliments the songs splendidly. I especially loved how the song “Turning My Life Around” hilariously showcased the at times self-centered nature of teenagers which can make them oblivious even to an apocalypse happening around them. I don’t know how much the budget is for the film, it is obviously a low-budget effort but it doesn’t show at all.
I really don’t like how the majority of critics have compared Anna and the Apocalypse to Shaun of the Dead. If a film is shot in the UK, prominently featuring UK actors, and belongs to the horror-comedy genre it is almost always compared to Shaun of the Dead. Firstly, by forcing a film into a bracket the critics are depriving films of such ilk the chance to stand on their own. Secondly, I feel classifying Anna and the Apocalypse as a part of the horror-comedy genre is a bit of a stretch. The entire third act here is devoid of humor. It is flat-out dark and depressing. The comedy is most prominent in the second act. So calling a movie with sparsely present comedy as a full-on horror-comedy irks me a bit. The Shaun of the Dead comparison has also been promoted in the trailers and posters of the movie which I feel can be a bit misleading for the audience. I do however totally agree with the Glee comparison because the first act plays almost like an episode of Glee.
Anna and the Apocalypse have great foot-tapping musical numbers, practical horror effects which are always highly appreciated, and also a fairly decent Christmassy atmosphere throughout aided by a fun little animated opening title sequence. Do however manage your expectations when it comes to the comedy part.
My Rating: 8/10