Published on November 26th, 2018 | by Curtis Mayfield
Anna and the Apocalypse – Film Review
Reviewed by Curtis Mayfield M-H on the 25th of November 2018
Icon Films presents a film by John McPhail
Written by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry
Produced by Naysun Alae-Carew, Nicholas Crum and Tracy Jarvis
Starring: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Marli Siu, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux and Ben Wiggins
Music by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly
Cinematography: Sara Deane
Edited by Mark Hermida
Running Time: 92 minutes
Release Date: the 29th of November 2018
There is a lot to love and hate about Anna and the Apocalypse, starting with its semi‑original idea of mashing two genres together.
For the first third of the movie, we are tricked into thinking this will be another high school musical where school kids sing their way through their adolescent problems.
However, in a move towards to originality, writers Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry have added an extra bite to this Glee-tastic experience. While Anna (Ella Hunt) sings about her problems of teen angst, there is a far tougher challenge she must face and it is not related to her exams.
Instead, Anna and her schoolmates must fight off the undead. Yes, zombies have found a new breeding ground in the musical genre. While the attempt to bite off something fresh is commendable, the movie comes up short. For every idea that’s unique, there’s a million and one high school movie tropes.
For example, John (Malcolm Cumming) is the male best friend that pines for Anna from afar. He is as cliché as the character sounds. He’s witty and charming but not what Anna wants. Typically, there are also bullies, a mean-spirited principal, and a high‑quality end of year school production. Mix these factors in with ideas ‘borrowed’ heavily from Edgar Wright’s zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead (2004), and you have a lukewarm but decent effort at a new form of zombie movie.
Fortunately, Hunt and Cumming carry their leading roles with enough confidence that it is hard to believe that Apocalypse marks their screen debut. As the movie unfolds, we are also introduced to some charismatic teen characters that are facing their own end-of-year hardships. Much like an episode of the teen drama Degrassi, the cast of kids is made up of an elective group of characters.
There’s Steph (Sarah Swire) who is an awkward but loveable future journalist. Her parents aren’t accepting of her sexuality and leave her behind for Christmas while they dance about Mexico. Then there’s the teen couple that are so madly in love they will make you feel sicker than the scenes of zombie brains being splattered over the school walls. In fact, the characters are very thinly written, which means the film’s main engagement lies in its genre combinations of horror, comedy and musical.
As mentioned, director John McPhail does a decent job of balancing the medley of genres in this horror/comedy hybrid but is also heavily influenced by Shaun of the Dead. Take note of a brilliant scene where the zombie outbreak has initiated but Anna and co, blissfully unaware of the destruction, sing and dance their way to school. While the songs aren’t as good or memorable as other musicals, the novelty of the music in scenes like this effectively covers the film’s plot holes.
It’s a scene that sets the second act in motion and juggles the horror/musical elements of the film nicely, but you can’t help but think the inspiration behind this scene comes from Edgar Wright’s work.
What Anna does accomplish well is its accurate vision of a Gen Y response to the end of the world. Watching the teens talk about which celebrities have bitten the dust and taking selfies with the undead is something that’s (unfortunately) quite plausible in 2018. The first third of the movie asks us to take the problems of these characters seriously but then veers sharply into goofiness as it makes a farce out of the zombie takeover. This works for the most part but the tonal switch is jarring.
Picture Zombieland (2009) mixed with a half-baked La La Land (2016) and you’ll imagine something close to this movie. Anna and the Apocalypse is a lot of fun with its daring move of genre smashing. It is not a movie you must overthink because it is always enjoyable seeing zombies being killed (again) in fun ways. You will never look at a bowling alley the same after watching this.
Unfortunately, while originality does help, it also doesn’t necessarily make for a good movie. After dealing with these whiny teen characters for more than twenty minutes you will wish the flesh-eating creatures would pop up sooner and devour everyone on screen.
Summary: While the attempt to bite off something fresh is commendable, the movie comes up short. For every idea that’s unique, there's a million and one high school movie tropes.