Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Review: Anna and the Apocalypse

Christmas and horror movies seem to go as well with each other as peppermint and schnapps. From Black Christmas to Gremlins to Krampus, there is no shortage of them. Maybe it’s the idea that is should be such a peaceful and loving time that makes it such a fertile ground for frightening scenarios. Maybe it’s because some family gatherings are so nightmarish that a slasher on the loose seems like a fine change of pace. Either way, when the season rolls around, I’m always happy to throw a couple on and get in the spirit. Some of them can be downright horrid, which is why it is a pleasure when you find a gem of a movie out there that you want to keep in your holiday rotation from that day on. Anna and the Apocalypse is such a film.

The movie can be messily summed up as a Christmas musical horror-comedy set against a zombie outbreak. A Christmas zom-com-ical, if you will. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to use that. Ever. I hate myself for even thinking of it.)

On the cusp of the holiday, a group of seniors at a Scottish high school have their futures ahead of them and their own problems to deal with. Anna wants to graduate and go travelling, much to her widowed father’s dismay. Her best friend John pines for her and wants her to stay. Steph is dealing with a girlfriend that doesn’t want to be with her on Christmas and parents that seemingly feel the same. Their friend Chris needs something real to say with his show reel, something that sells him. Lisa wants Chris and herself to be together forever. Their headmaster just wants the students to obey his every word. And also to use hand sanitizer, because there is a killer new bug going around. You might have a guess as to what happens when you contract said bug and, on the evening of the school pageant, the infection makes its way to the town, bringing along the zombies it creates. Now, the friends must band together as they try to find a way to survive a zombie apocalypse while singing and dancing through the most bloody Christmas of their lives.

 While the beats are standard for a lot of zombie films out there, some even straying quite near to Shaun of the Dead, the music and the heart of the film set it apart from the pack. Indeed, the musical numbers and so well done and catchy that it’s hard to leave the theater without an ear worm stuck in your head for the rest of the day. “There’s No Such Thing as a Hollywood Ending” is the promoted single from it and somehow also not the best in the film, which is great praise as that song itself is a great, toe-tapping number. The fact that the movie is filled with these guarantees you will be bopping your head throughout the runtime, especially when they are set to some rather brilliant choreography.

The cast is a solid bunch and all have the pipes to perform their singing duties and then some. If there’s a weak link among them, these ears couldn’t hear it. Most of the songs are ensemble pieces too, so you’ll hear them all singing plenty of times. In their regular speaking roles, they are excellent as well, and in a short amount of time manage to create likeable characters that we are invested in seeing through until their ends. Not a small feat in horror movies, where it seems like so many are despicable or played so badly that you can’t wait until they are killed. Anna, played by Ella Hunt, is the standout in the title role, but her co-stars aren’t far behind and show off some amazing talent that will serve them well in their hopefully long careers. The villain, played by Paul Kaye (Thoros on Game of Thrones) gets to sing as well, evoking a performance that was so reminiscent of Richard O’Brien that I had to check to make sure it wasn’t actually the latter.

Director John McPhail and the screenwriters (not to mention the songwriters) had an amazing task before them in getting all of these moving parts together and with great skill, managed to make one fantastic movie, one that should be part of your holiday tradition for years to come. I’ll be looking forward to see what they come up with next.

 Anna and the Apocalypse is currently in theaters now. Check it out.

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