12 Awesome Things About “Anna and the Apocalypse”

Anna (Ella Hunt), her jerky ex Nick (Ben Wiggins), and their friends squabble
even as they fend off a zombie outbreak in their town.
(Courtesy of Orion Pictures.)

I’ve got to admit that I’m burnt out on the whole zombie thing. Over the last decade and beyond, we’ve been besieged by endless movies and series depicting this undead scourge to the point where it becomes hard to say anything exciting or new. Props then to the cast and crew behind Anna and the Apocalypse, a high school, coming-of-age zombie musical set at Christmastime that mashes up genres, not to mention gore and glee, to deliver a highly entertaining experience.

Here are a dozen great things about this off-the-wall indie film from Scotland which invades U.S. theaters on November 30th.

1. The movie takes the familiar woes of high school hierarchy and gives us characters with depth. Friend and foes alike often say awkward or insensitive things to each other, and they will struggle to come together during their flight from the zombies later in the story.

2. Including two songs in the school’s talent show, there are 12 songs in the film, and none of them seem to last longer than three minutes. That means they comprise a little over a third of the film’s running time. The songs work well within the framework of the story and don’t overstay their welcome. As someone who sees a lot of Broadway musicals, many with too many musical interludes, I appreciate this.

3. Likewise, the filmmakers don’t overdo the gore. Hardcore horror buffs need not fret, there is plenty of blood and eviscerations, but it would be stupid to make this movie one giant splatter fest. That would work against the focus of the story.

4. The school’s Christmas show features an overtly sexual torch song with support from shirtless male dancers. It’s hilarious and infuriates the uptight headmaster to be, who is appropriately named Savage.

Director John McPhail on set.
(Courtesy of Orion Pictures.)

5. Paul Kaye really bites into his Savage role. His own punk-ish number is not quite as strong as some of the others, but he gives his familiar character type a creepy, fascistic persona that makes a good foil for the kids and parents.

6. Ella Hunt brings a lot of charm and physicality to the lead role. She sings, she dances, she impales zombies. Talk about a triple threat. The cast is great too.

7. I learned that a bowling alley offers plenty of items, like balls and pins, that are useful for dispatching zombies.

8. Just like in real life, kids immersed in their iPod world might not immediately notice signs of a zombie plague in their neighborhood, which makes for a good musical number called “Turning My Life Around”. Also as in real life, douchey bros tend to stay that way in times of crisis, leading to a Survivor-like number called “Soldier At War” that parodies “Eye Of The Tiger”.

9. Despite being a low budget film, Anna and the Apocalypse does not look it and is well directed by John McPhail and smartly written by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry. Talented cinematographer Sara Deane moves her camera a lot but is judicious and smart in her choices.

10. Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly composed some catchy tunes. Not all of them are keepers, but they vary in feeling and tone throughout, sometimes integrating characters in different locales to emphasis the universality of what they are experiencing even if they are reacting to it differently. Meanwhile, choreographer Sarah Swire, who also plays Steph, deftly syncs it up visually. Keep an eye on her career too.

11. Not everyone makes it out alive. There are some surprising deaths, which makes it more believable. Some of them carry more weight than others, but there is poignancy to many of them. I like when a character dies in a horror film and you care, rather than having the filmmakers mindlessly rack up a body count.

12. Anna and the Apocalypse does not cop out and pushes all the through way with the trajectory of its somber story, which in the end is an allegory about escaping the conformist life of an ordinary suburb. That theme also carries extra weight at a time of international social and political turmoil, although to be fair no hot button issues are addressed in the film. It’s ultimately a lot of fun to watch, but it does have a point.

Candy canes and carnage.
(Courtesy of Orion Pictures.)

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