Studio: Orion Pictures
Director: John McPhail
Writer: Alan McDonald, Ryan McHenry, Roddy Hart, Tommy Reilly
Producer: Naysun Alae-Carew, Nicholas Crum, Tracy Jarvis
Stars: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Marli Siu, Ben Wiggins, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye
High school students struggle to put their personal lives in order while a zombie outbreak creates chaos in their town.
Musicals have never been my bag. To this day I’ve not seen such classics as “The Sound of Music” because I simply can’t stomach that style of singing and dancing as a narrative format.
I prefer horror and comedy to be served on separate plates too. While I’m yelling at clouds, I might as well mention that aging in our current climate makes me more of a “bah humbug” curmudgeon with each passing day.
For all of these reasons, I presumed I’d end up p*ssing in the punchbowl of seemingly universal praise for “Anna and the Apocalypse.” No way would a Christmastime zom-com founded on “High School Musical” routines and “Shaun of the Dead” shtick keep my “seen it all before” eyes from rolling or disinterested lips from separating in a yawn. As I discovered however, you’d have to be a complete Grinch to be immune to the movie’s ability to melt icy hearts with its punchy spirit and cheeky splatter.
Anne Hathaway lookalike Ella Hunt plays Anna, a typical teen with big dreams in a small town whose frustrated father offers admonishing words about wanderlust sabotaging her uncertain future. Anna also harbors a typical crush on bad boy bully Nick, much to the doe-eyed dismay of Anna’s platonic pal John, who naturally nurses his own quiet crush on Anna.
Steph occupies another classmate satellite in Anna’s orbit. In her quiet moments, Steph’s heart breaks over her girlfriend and parents being abroad for Christmas, leaving Steph to celebrate alone. In her extroverted incarnation, Steph regularly butts heads with hateful headmaster Mr. Savage, whose determination to delightedly demean everyone possible includes Anna’s dad, the school custodian.
FX-obsessed film junkie Chris fails to impress his teacher with a video project. She challenges Chris to create content with substance, which he tries doing by partnering with Steph on a homelessness exposé. Chris’ girlfriend Lisa now worries Chris will miss her upcoming Christmas pageant performance.
“Anna and the Apocalypse” has a slightness problem. That problem comes from having no shortage of characters mixed up in assorted personal problems, but a scarcity of screen time to make their B and C side stories mean something. Everyone has an individual arc, yet nearly none of them land at a satisfactory end point, if their development seems sensible at all.
70 minutes into the movie, we find out there is more to Anna’s interest in Nick than we were originally led to believe. It’s a weird time for this particular revelation to finally add weight to their awkward relationship. It’s even weirder to see them sprout a sudden backstory when it’s past time for an audience to invest in their connection. Writing content to shrug its shoulders when it comes to deepening characters provides similar outcomes of unaddressed resolutions to Chris’ quest to discover a director’s eye or Steph’s hike over a hill of loneliness.
As compensation, the film fills up on interpersonal moments of little consequence. After an undead outbreak redirects everyone’s immediate concerns, John and Chris amusingly muse over which celebrities might have become zombies by now. Scenes such as these do nothing to actually advance a story, even though they make up a majority of minutes.
At the same time, “Anna and the Apocalypse” turns these dithering bits into charismatic currency that cashes in on the fresh-faced cast’s charm. True, the setup never becomes more complicated than a couple of kids caught in one location trying to reconnect with friends and family trapped in the school. Then again, how important is substance when impassioned performances and snappy style provide personality in place of a plot?
Music matters more than anything in a case like this and the songs written by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly bring a big bat to that plate. Catchy beats, snarky lyrics, and accompanying choreography charge “Anna and the Apocalypse” with consistently high voltages. All of those elements exhibit energy that’s imaginative as well as irreverent, with “It’s That Time of Year” occupying a particular peak. Lisa performs the sexually suggestive song, complete with bare-chested boys thrusting candy canes from their crotches, for parents and faculty who go from dropped jaw shock to standing ovation approval. It’s clever, funny, and, like several similarly appealing songs, easily earns repeat listens.
“Anna and the Apocalypse” doesn’t shortchange its undead action either. There’s nothing noteworthy about the straightforward makeup or standardizing shambling. But good gore gags come from a decapitated snowman, a bachelor party bursting into a bowling alley, and a Christmas tree lot filled with a frothing horde.
Mixing angsty teen melodrama with showy musical numbers brings to mind many musically inclined episodes of “Degrassi.” Truth be told, I’ve seen a little more liveliness in its episodic Canadian counterpart than in the lower valleys of this Scottish feature film.
Yet as indicated earlier, you still have to go out of your way to not be wooed by the fun flick’s well-meaning sweetness, flashes of sassy attitude, and overall eagerness to please with pure entertainment. “Anna and the Apocalypse” is lacking in areas that are usually worth more points, specifically original fiction and characters who aren’t inhibited by their archetypes. But the movie mostly makes up for it where it counts most, which is in offering a nearly nonstop supply of harmlessly humorous horror with heart.
Review Score: 65