×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’

'High School Musical' meets 'Dawn of the Dead' in a zippy zom-com-musical set in Scotland during Christmas time.

Director:
John McPhail
With:
Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming
Release Date:
Nov 30, 2018

Rated R  1 hour 47 minutes

Can high school students sing and dance their way to safety during a zombie cataclysm in small-town Scotland at Christmas time? That’s the delightfully crazy and highly entertaining question in “Anna and the Apocalypse,” a horror-musical-comedy loaded with cartoonish gore and peppy production numbers performed with full “let’s put on a show” gusto by an appealing cast of little-knowns. Although this combo of carnage, crooning, and comedy is just a tad overlong, it has the originality and crowd-pleasing energy to become a Christmas movie hit when it opens theatrically in the U.K. and U.S. just in time for the holidays.

“Anna” registers as more than just a throwaway novelty item thanks to simple yet highly effective emotional underpinnings. For the first 15 minutes there’s not a drooling ghoul in sight. We’re in classic, John Hughes-style teen movie territory, with singing and dancing added. Anna, played with star-in-the-making sparkle by Ella Hunt, is a clever senior at Little Haven High. Her decision to travel abroad instead of going straight to university has angered her widowed father, Tony (Mark Benton), who’s also the school’s janitor.

Bouncy pop tunes and power ballads neatly express the dreams and insecurities of Anna and her friends. Her platonic bestie, John (Malcolm Cumming), is of course secretly in love with her, while her ex, a smug bully named Nick (Ben Wiggins), thinks she’ll come running back. Steph (Sarah Swire, also choreographer of the film’s excellent dance routines) is a socially and politically switched-on American lesbian dumped in Little Haven by rich and absent parents. Film geek Chris (Christopher Leveaux) has found a soul mate in Lisa (Marli Siu), a budding cabaret artist who takes center stage at the school’s Christmas show.

Lisa delivers one of the film’s laugh-out-loud highlights when she performs a slinky song in the spirit of Eartha Kitt’s 1953 hit “Santa Baby,” all the more hilarious in such a straight-laced context for its inappropriately lewd lyrics (e.g. “Come on, Santa, unload your sack”). With her suggestive stroking of a microphone stand and a chorus line of bare-chested boys in spangly shorts also in the frame, this sequence proves to be a genuine show-stopper.

The gory stuff gets going when Anna and John bound out of their houses the next morning wearing headphones and singing about how it’s great to be alive. As they skip along in blissful aural ignorance, a full-blown zombie apocalypse unfolds behind them, complete with blood-spattered houses, corpses strewn on front lawns, and marauding creatures dressed in Santa suits, cable-knit sweaters, and other Christmas-themed fashion violations.

The catchy tunes by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly take on a grittier tone once Anna and John realize what’s happening. After meeting their pals at a bowling alley, where director John McPhail (“Where Do We Go From Here”) stages some of his most creative and comedic zombie kills, the youngsters slaughter their way toward perceived safety at the school.

“Anna” works like a charm for the first hour and only dips a little when school administrator Mr. Savage (Paul Kaye) flips out and becomes a tyrannical monster who’d go so far as to feed janitor Tony to the hungry hordes in order to save his own skin. Kaye throws himself into the role admirably, though the film dedicates a bit too much screen time to Savage’s crazed antics. It’s hardly a fatal blow. “Anna” picks itself up, dusts itself off, and comes home with a finale that’s so satisfying and sincere, it’ll make some viewers misty-eyed.

Sara Deane’s razor-sharp widescreen photography, Ryan Clachrie’s brightly-colored production design, and Fi Morrison’s spot-on costuming are standouts in a craft package that’s tops on a modest budget. The film is dedicated to the memory of Ryan McHenry, who wrote and directed the 2011 short film “Zombie Musical,” upon which “Anna” is based. McHenry, credited here as co-writer and originally slated to direct, passed away at age 27 in May 2015.

Film Review: ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’

Reviewed at BiFan Film Festival (World Fantastic Blue), July 21, 2018. (Also in Fantasia, Edinburgh, Fantastic Fest film festivals.) Running time: 107 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Vertigo Releasing (in U.K.), Orion Pictures (in U.S.) release of a Blazing Griffin production, in association with Parkhouse Pictures, Creative Scotland, Constellation Creatives. (Int'l sales: AMP Int’l, London.) Producers: Naysun Alae-Carew, Nicholas Crum, Tracy Jarvis. Executive producers: Al Niblo, Anne Mensah, Todd Brown, James Norrie, Mark Thomas Peter van der Watt, Tracy Brimm, Steve Jarvis, Orion Lee. Co-producers: Steven Little, Charlotte Walsh.

Crew: Director: John McPhail. Screenplay: Ryan McHenry, Alan McDonald. Camera (color, HD, widescreen): Sara Deane. Editor: Mark Hermida. Music and lyrics: Roddy Hart, Tommy Reilly.

With: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye, Ella Jarvis, Janet Lawson.

More Film

  • Nordic Film Market: New Pálmason, Hákonarson,

    Nordic Film Market Selects Latest Palmason, Hakonarson, Hafstrom, Ganslandt

    The 20th Nordic Film Market in Göteborg, unspooling Jan. 31-Feb 3, will showcase 16 works in progress including Hlynur Pálmason’s “A White, White Day”, Grímur Hákonarson’s “The County”, Mikael Håfström’s “The Perfect Patient” and Jesper Ganslandt’s “438 Days.” Iceland is well represented this year with top directors and festival darlings Pálmason (“Winter Brothers”), Hákonarson (“Rams”) [...]

  • 'All These Small Moments' Review

    Film Review: 'All These Small Moments'

    The magic of writer-director Melissa B. Miller Costanzo’s “All These Small Moments” can be found within the intimacy of the scenarios, the authenticity of her earnest characterizations, and the accessibility of the actors’ honest performances. In her deftly polished directorial debut, Costanzo dovetails the primary story about a teen’s coming of age with a secondary [...]

  • Bruce Tufeld Dead: Hollywood Agent and

    Hollywood Agent and Manager Bruce Tufeld Dies at 66

    Bruce Tufeld, a Hollywood agent and manager who once repped stars like Rob Lowe, Laura Dern, and Kelsey Grammer, died Tuesday in Los Angeles as a result of complications from liver cancer. He was 66. The son of respected television announcer Richard “Dick” Tufeld and Adrienne Tufeld, Bruce began his career as an assistant at ICM [...]

  • Bruce Dern

    Film News Roundup: Bruce Dern's 'The Lears' Bought by Vertical for February Release

    In today’s film news roundup, Bruce Dern’s “The Lears” and “Angels Are Made of Light” are acquired, Cold War drama “Stanley Cage” is launched and a documentary about Madonna’s early music career gets a release. ACQUISITIONS More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Vertical Entertainment has acquired North American rights [...]

  • Octavia Spencer Bryce Dallas Howard

    Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard to Reunite for Comedy 'Fairy Tale Ending'

    Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard will reunite for the ensemble comedy “Fairy Tale Ending.” Jim Hecht (“Ice Age: The Meltdown) and Tracy McMillan (“Marvel’s Runaways”) are writing the screenplay. More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Howard will also produce the Universal movie through her Nine Muses Entertainment alongside [...]

  • Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at DuArt

    Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at New York's DuArt Film Labs, Dies at 88

    Robert Smith, a longtime executive with New York’s DuArt Film Labs, died Jan. 11 in Montvale, N.J. He was 88. Smith spent some 62 years with DuArt, the film processing and post-production facility founded in 1922 in the penthouse of an automobile garage in Midtown. Smith rose to president of DuArt before retiring in 2015. [...]

  • Bird Box

    Los Angeles On-Location Feature Filming Surges 12.2% in 2018

    On-location feature filming in Greater Los Angeles expanded impressively in 2018, gaining 12.2% to 4,377 shooting days, according to FilmL.A. Production activity for feature films rose 15.5% to 1,078 shooting days during the fourth quarter, with 146 days coming from projects receiving California tax credits — including Netflix’s “Bird Box,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content