All I saw were the words Christmas zombie horror musical and I said to myself, “I’m in!”
It may sound like a strange combination, but to this deranged and perhaps delusional genre fan, it screamed potential cult flick and a must see, but would it live up to the buzz or flatline?
Based on the BAFTA award winning short film, Zombie musical by Ryan McHenry (which is actually kind of awesome too and I’ll post a youtube clip of it at the foot of the review for those that are interested) and adapted to feature length by director John McPhail, who does his best to draw out the apocalyptic harmonies with drama, and twinges of gore.
Anna and the Apocalypse’s greatest strength is not just the upbeat music among the bloodlust, but the beating heart of its central characters. There is plenty of time spent building on their backgrounds that by the time things inevitably go wrong you actually give a damn about their survival.
Central to the characters is the titular Anna played by Ella Hunt, who dreams of getting far away from the dead Scottish town of Little Haven, only to awaken to a zombie outbreak and must fight tooth and nail to not only survive but reach those she had tried so desperately to leave behind – her friends and family.
In support is a cracker of a cast in the best friend who keeps hanging onto the hopes of winning Anna’s heart, John (Malcolm Cumming) who incidentally has some of the best lines in the movie; the star-crossed lovers, Chris (Christopher Leveaux) and Lisa (Marli Siu); Anna’s ex and complete tool, Nick (Ben Wiggins); and Anna’s father, Tony (Mark Benton).
Stand out performances though come from Paul Kaye (most notable of late in HBO’s Game of Thrones as Thoros of Myr) as the slightly unhinged headmaster, and looks like he hasn’t this much fun on-screen since his Dennis Pennis days; also relative unknown Sarah Swire, who plays a lesbian outcast editor of the school newspaper. She nails this role with her cross of stifled, uncomfortable social behaviour, combined with grit and “bad-ass” zombie killing action.
If I were to hurl any criticism at this film though, it’s that Anna doesn’t bring enough of that grit herself to the fight, and despite being described by her friends as “always finding a way out of things”, she rarely does and often relies on those friends to get her out of a jam. That’s not to say that Hunt doesn’t execute her role well, because she does. Just some more time and care spent on the writing, could have lifted her character to greater heights.
The other sticking point for me is that the comedy whilst worth the odd-chuckle, never reaches Shaun of the Dead style humour. If the wit had been that little bit sharper, we could have well had a movie that would have easily verged on classic status.
The thought of a musical may have some of you running for the hills, but Anna and the Apocalypse is a well-crafted film that embraces its characters before ripping out their bleeding hearts to the sounds of pop-infused drama and soul that make this a thoroughly enjoyable movie.
- Saul Muerte