‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ is a comedy horror Christmas musical featuring fun pop songs, a tight script, and a compelling cast. If you’ve ever seen Disney’s Highschool Musical, it should feel awfully similar, but with zombies… during Christmas.
Directed by John McPhail, with a script written by Ryan McHenry and Alan McDonald, the film is set for wide release this Friday, December 7th – just in time for some horror and happiness this holiday season.
We covered the book release last month in an interview with writer Barry Waldo about the history behind the movie’s story. You can read more about that here. As for this review, I’ll compare the book versus the movie, and briefly detail what makes this movie fun to see.
The Story Remains the Same
For the most part, it starts the same. Set in a hunky-dory Scottish small town, Anna is a high school senior about to graduate. She wants to defer college for a little in order to travel, though against the will of her father, who happens to her high school’s janitor.
She has a nerdy best friend named John who secretly has feelings for her, and a pair of mates named Chris and Lisa – the de facto ‘couple’ of the gang grossly enamored with one another. Anna also has a Canadian out-of-towner friend named Steph, who is a queer woke activist getting over a breakup, her long-distant girlfriend calling it quits just as Steph’s parents are away. Finally, there’s Nick, Anna’s ex-fling who is, as the kid’s call it, The Worst, as he’s the obnoxious cafeteria bully type that Anna very much regrets hooking up with.
It starts on Christmas eve. The school is holding a festive Christmas pageant organized by the uptight principal Savage, whose newfound title seems to be getting to his head. The event itself turns out to be quite risqué: as a scantily dressed Lisa sings a rather libidinous song meant for Chris featuring lewd double entendres about ‘emptying Santa’s sack’ and needing to get her ‘chimney unblocked’.
Meanwhile, Anna and John work their shift at the bowling alley for what’s seemingly a dull evening… until the zombie apocalypse drops overnight. The next morning, they realize their parents never arrived home last evening, and so after some brief encounters with some familiar faces, they go on a quest to their high school to find their missing friends and family who hadn’t returned the night before.
Now, what I like about Anna is how user-friendly it is. It’s easy to consume from the get-go; the musical, easily selling itself in camp and high spirits which contrasts its darker latter half involving zombies. It’s also much faster paced than the novel – which is a good thing – as the introspection of the book is shown rather than spoken. All through catchy musical numbers.
Speaking of which, the music truly accentuates the story. Though I didn’t love every song, I did have a couple that I ended up singing along to…
Turning My Life Around
This was probably my favorite as it sold the promise of the movie premise but also, showcased just how fun Anna and John’s friendship is. It’s also a fun comparison for me, as a filmmaker, to see what’s changed in the years since the movie’s first iteration as a youtube film. You can see the movie’s version atop, and the original at the bottom and see just how far the production has come.
Soldier At War
“The Fish Wrap” and “It’s That Time of Year” were the most memorable songs to me, but I’ll let you see that for yourself, as it’s one of the best moments in the film. I will mention though that this nice little gem called “Soldier at War,” made me want to get up and slay some zombies myself.
However, this probably encapsulates the spirit of Christmas and zombies in the movie. And the cafeteria song and dance, a staple in high school musicals, is rather well choreographed.
Standout, Shout Outs
I must admit, Ella Hunt’s portrayal of Anna-Every-Woman was resolute. She kept this movie moving forward and she’s delightful to both watch on screen and listen to in her musical numbers. However, just like in the books, I thought Steph was hands down the best character. Her role in the movie is even more significant than what I read in the novelization! She’s both kickass and compelling – beating up zombies, while also being conscientious and fearless in the face of danger. And so major kudos to Sarah Swire. Not only did she do such a good job, but she also acted as choreographer for the movie, and is queer in real life – a seriously solid casting job by the movie.
On the technical side, it was a tad hit and miss. We never see much movement in the camera, as much as we get a glimpse of the aftermath of most scenes. The shots are rather static, but we do see what came for: Zombies, guts and musicals. Perhaps the most technical shot is the sing-along section where Anna walks the streets – which I posted a part of above.
Yet despite the often used wide and steady shots, the environment does come alive by utilizing some musical styled blocking and framing. The lighting and color contrast also bring an extreme sort of charm that’s appropriate for these end of the world stories.
Overall, Anna is a fun story I’m glad I had a chance to cover extensively. Check it out in theatres this Friday, December 7th if you liked the clips above or you’re in the mood for something silly yet horror themed this Christmas.