Audiences often groan about how we never see anything original anymore. During the pre-show trailers, I can’t help but often think I’ve already seen this movie before. Anna and the Apocalypse is something you haven’t seen before. It’s a comedy horror zombie musical. And a coming-of-age film. And it’s also a Christmas movie. And it’s brilliant from beginning to end. Anna and the Apocalypse is one of my favorite movies of the year.
Sunny, cheerful Scottish 17-year-old Anna (Ella Hunt) wants to travel the world after high school, but her dad wants her to start university and do her departed mother proud. Her good friend John (Malcolm Cumming) has always admired her romantically from afar but is too shy to say anything. Her other friends, Steph (Sarah Swire,) Lisa (Marli Su,) and Chris (Christopher Leveaux) all have their own thing going on, and kind of can’t see past their own life, like you do when you’re in high school. Meanwhile, on the day of a school talent show, a zombie outbreak happens, and the end is nigh. Anna and her friends must sing and stab and slash in their fight to survive.
I adored every second of this movie. It’s self-referential but not annoying. It’s silly but serious. It’s hilarious but has genuinely affecting emotional moments. To create an original musical on a micro-budget is one thing, but to have that also be a zombie horror movie with lots of red high fructose corn syrup is another thing altogether. This is a remarkably impressive film because it never looks or sounds cheap. The zombies look scary, the gore has the appropriate ick factor, and the music is infectiously catchy. There’s only one number with really strict choreography, where there are more than five people dancing in a room, but that’s not to say the songs aren’t great. Every musical number is extremely well done.
This is also a film full of unknowns that I hope go onto do great work. Ella Hunt is very charming. She’s got a great singing voice and Anna is a relatable backbone to this story, but she isn’t the MVP of this story. Sarah Swire as Steph, and Ben Wiggins as Nick, an arrogant jock who makes good, are deliciously good, and genuine scene-stealing stars. Swire has great one-liners and has a commanding presence that establishes her from the beginning as someone you’d better not cross. And Wiggins comes in halfway through and steals the whole film with its best musical number. But the fact that this cast of unknowns doesn’t have a weak link, dramatically or musically, makes it all the better.
John McPhail directs this nicely. With limited resources and no studio backing (Orion Pictures distributed this in the US…yeah, Orion,) it’s unbelievable that this looks as good as it does. A highlight finds Anna and John happily singing and dancing down the streets at the beginning of a new day, ignoring the zombie apocalypse mayhem unfolding around them. It’s the moment I knew this would be recognized as a cult classic one day, and rightly so. This isn’t getting the theatrical release it deserves, but people will find it on streaming and home video, and you’ll be hearing about this movie a lot in the years to come.
Anna and the Apocalypse is a movie that played to my exact interests. I’m a musical theatre fan who enjoys horror movies and coming of age dramas. It’s all of those things. It’s reminiscent of stuff like Shawn of the Dead, Mean Girls, Hairspray, Zombieland, etc., but it isn’t trying to copy anything. It’s a mix of about six different genres, but it never feels like it doesn’t know what it is. It’s based on a short film called Zombie Christmas, by Ryan McHenry, who passed away at age 27 after a battle with bone cancer. His dream was to see this zombie Christmas High School Musical idea get made into a feature. And I think he’d be proud of it. Anna and the Apocalypse is scrappy, energetic, bonkers, brilliant, and a complete joy to behold.