Eccentric and innovative, Anna and the Apocalypse brings a new style of holiday cheer with its immensely entertaining zombie/musical mashup.
A zombie Christmas musical doesn’t come your way every day, but when it does, you need to savor it. Anna and the Apocalypse is a refreshingly genre-bending adventure that relishes the absurd while possessing a huge amount of heart, creating an utterly unique cinematic experience.
Anna (Ella Hunt) is having a tough time: her dad has just found out her plans for taking a gap year in Australia after graduating high school and isn’t pleased. She has complicated feelings about her ex-boyfriend, and her best friend is not-so-secretly in love with her. So the absolute last thing in the universe she needs is for the undead to rise in her quiet hometown. But that’s what happens. Accompanied by a surprisingly strong pop soundtrack.
Now she and her friends are forced to fight a hoard of killer zombies as they make their way across town to their local high school, where the majority of their community is holed up after attending a talent show. (Highlights include a penguin rap number and a delightfully filthy Christmas standard, if you were interested.)
The teenagers in this film are brought to life by a talented group of largely unknown young actors, who are clever and funny and make the audience immediately emotionally invested in their plight. (This is harder than it looks — usually somewhere along the line in the filmmaking process, creating likable teen characters tends to get lost in translation.)
And as if the zombies weren’t enough, they have to face off against the greatest of all cinematic enemies: their headmaster Arthur Savage, who seems to be using the impending apocalypse as an opportunity to live out all of his Lord of the Flies fantasies. Savage is played by Paul Kaye, who manages to get his teeth on every piece of scenery he can find and is a delightfully chaotic presence in a film where most of the other foes are by necessity a bit slow and lumbering.
Although Anna and the Apocalypse has its fair share of holiday cheer, it also features a surprisingly melancholy emotional center. As one of the film’s most memorable songs foreshadows, there is no Hollywood ending in store for these characters. At its heart, it’s a story about loss, which makes sense considering its origins as the brainchild of Ryan McHenry, a young Scottish director who died of cancer in 2015, after which his friends endeavored to bring his vision to life.
There is a lingering sadness to the production, which gives it a much-needed sense of depth. Yes, there are silly musical numbers and sight gags with zombie snowmen, but at the heart of the film, these are young people fighting for their lives and losing. The way that it effortlessly blends the musical and horror genres reflects the film’s inherent duality — all of the promise and joy of youth juxtaposed with a very real existential threat.
Ultimately, though, Anna and the Apocalypse succeeds because its a tremendous amount of fun. The main characters are immediately and intensely likable, thanks to charming performances from the lead actors (seriously, like, all of them — there is no weak link in this cast). We care about them throughout the proceedings, whether they’re waxing musically about their teen heartache or fighting off zombies with a mad variety of Christmas decorations.
What could have hurt this movie is the potential for it to be seen as gimmicky, but the actions and emotions contained within the film feel remarkably genuine, which allows it go beyond being merely a quirky novelty. And if there’s any justice in the world, Anna and the Apocalypse will attain cult status and become your newest holiday classic.