Anna and the Apocalypse (2018) Review

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Anna and The Apocalypse

Directed by John McPhail

https://www.aatafilm.com/

Musicals were once an institute of American cinema but have only found sporadic success during the last half century. Some films might spin integral soundtracks but full on song and dance numbers are not particularly commonplace. Horror is not usually a genre known for its stage adaptations though hits like “The Evil Dead” and “The Toxic Avenger” are ample proof of the possibilities although both of those were heavy on humor and gleeful with the gore making the experience more silly than scary.

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“Anna and the Apocalypse,” a 2017 festival circuit favorite finally making it to wide release and US cinemas is a UK film that mixes the influence of its homegrown horror hallmarks “Shaun of the Dead” and “28 Days Later” harnessing the comedy of the former and over the top gore of the latter (and the somber undertones of both) and mixing with a toe tapping, clap happy sing along ready score.

On the surface, this probably sounds like a truly terrible idea hatched from an executive at Hot Topic studios who is still wondering if some ninjas and pirates should be added in digitally like Jabba The Hutt for the special edition. Reservations are reasonable with a “zombie musical” but Anna and Company stuff stockings with Billboard ready material, blood soaked sets and a very different take on holiday horror.

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The hamlet of Little Haven features a rag tag group of friends, acquaintances and enemies who on the Eve of Christmas awaken to a full-blown zombie apocalypse that’s overtaken the British Isle and as everyone learns, the entire world. The characters do develop over the course of the film through both script and song in the John Hughes mold; nothing is particularly scene stealing or mold breaking but attempts to add depth and discussion in the 90- minute running time and numerous vaudeville numbers succeed more often than they fail.

The core cast of Ella Hunt as the strong and charming Anna, intelligent and awkward outcast Steph played by Sarah Swire, Malcom Cumming portrays Anna’s meek best friend at odds with Anna’s love interest and school bully Chris played by Ben Wiggens while couple Chris and Lisa are played respectively by Chris Leveaux and Marli Siu (who reminds me a bit of a Scottish Sarah Hyland, both in appearance and attitude). All are adept at their acting craft though Ella Hunt, Sarah Swire, Ben Wiggins and Christopher Leveaux have the strongest vocal talents by far.

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And the songs (composed by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly) are the stars here and not paying heed to the soundtracks best selections would be a sin worthy of the naughty list. The uptempo catharsis of “Break Away” is kind of Kelly Clarkson-like (fitting since the same title was one of her biggest hits, though like that song, this one also sounds like it was co-written by Avril Lavinge) with plenty of power, pathos and pop. “Hollywood Ending” is arguably the catchiest cut of the bunch, reminiscent of something off Radio Disney (the lyrics even name check the House of Mouse) with infectious hooks, gorgeous vocal layers and gooey bubblegum goodness. The in-film school holiday talent show features a short but funny “Fish Wrap” that goes over as well as one would expect but the laugh out loud portion that deserves all the accolades is the absolutely hilarious “It’s That Time of Year” where actress Marli Siu does her best “Mean Girls” song and dance routine with far more risqué lyrics and sexy moves. “Soldier At War” is pure sassy power pop that sounds like a Survivor outtake from a lost sports drama of the 80s with a 21st century gloss. “Human Voice” is another standout, it’s emotional alt rock charm having some real resonance as does the somber curtain call of “I Will Believe” that’s mournful but with a defiant spirit, giving it a gorgeous melancholy warmth. A handful of the these

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What elevates “Anna and the Apocalypse” is that while it has some initial oblivious reactions from the cast to the zombie hordes (especially evident in a memorable musical number that apes “Shaun of the Dead” with a loving homage to that horror comedy classic) the very real chaos, confusion and loss that would occur if such a catastrophe were to occur is never dampened. Many die, selfish nature abounds, the dark side of humanity rises – all common fodder for post-apocalyptic cinema but having balls to the wall brutality contrasted with sunshine showtunes creates a dichotomy that makes “Anna and the Apocalypse” a better film than most would expect and likely, a future holiday film tradition for many.

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