There’s Sweeney Todd, Rocky Horror, and The Phantom of the Opera, of course, but I can’t think of another zombie horror musical. Anna and the Apocalypse seemingly breaks new ground in 2018 by genre mashing, but it’s memorable because it also works. Zom-coms like Warm Bodies and Zombieland have lightened the undead apocalypse mood in recent years. They never broke into song, however.
The minds behind Anna and the Apocalypse are Scottish lads, director John McPhail, and co-writers Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry (McHenry’s 2011 short film, Zombie Musical, inspired the feature). The boys prove to have wicked senses of humor as their movie mixes splatter violence and soulful ballads in equal measure. Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy is an obvious touchstone, but Anna and the Apocalypse ups the ante by throwing musical numbers into the horror/comedy Christmas punch bowl. The film is more like a live-action South Park episode.
Like South Park, Anna and the Apocalypse uses satire to skewer. The sentiment is appreciated. (Sugary creampuffs like High School Musical and Glee could use a few amputations — even a few years late.) Set in a similar world of clichéd teen friends, Anna and the Apocalypse follows the title character on Christmas. Anna (Ella Hunt) is popular and dreams big but her father wants her to go right to college after graduating in the fall. Her best friend, John (Malcolm Cumming), is supportive, but only because he secretly pines for her. But none of it really matters when the zombie apocalypse breaks out in their little Scottish town.
Anna and John get into the musical spirit right away, belting out a soaring duet about what a beautiful day it is with earbuds in while chaos happens all around them (h/t to Shaun of the Dead). They sing obliviously until they’re finally attacked by a neighbor in a Frosty the Showman costume. Frosty’s subsequent decapitation wakes the best friends up and it’s a race to survive from then out. They team up with friends Steph (Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), and Anna’s ex, Nick (Ben Wiggins), and they all scream and sing their ways to the bloody finish.
The music isn’t exactly relevant all the time, and these songs won’t be winning any Oscars, but some are catchy. The musical aspect of Anna and the Apocalypse is there for comedy and little else. It’s a gimmick, a jaunty mashup of better movies and pop culture references (“Justin Bieber is a zombie!”) played for laughs. It’s best to just sit back and not think about it too hard, like most horror movies.
The cast of unknowns does an impressive job switching from elated to terrified. The film is nothing if not self-aware so most of the actors are overplaying their hands throughout. It works. Overcooked performances are staples of both horror movies and musicals so it only makes sense for the cast to ham it up. The comedy is predictable that way, and the film throws a lot at the audience in hopes some of it will stick. It did for me. Anna and the Apocalypse is a strange mix unlike anything else in theaters this year. That alone is reason to see it.
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