A Christmas zombie musical comedy should not work. However, John McPhail’s second feature sells the hell out of this improbable combination. Anna and the Apocalypse’s scrappy lack of polish and the gusto of its no-name cast makes the world-ending stakes and threat of (permanent) death more impactful than some of the year’s most prominent blockbusters (looking at you, Infinity War). Add endearing characters, belly laughs, over-the-top bloodshed and a cheesy pop soundtrack and you undoubtedly have a genuine holiday hit.
The zombie plague is barely mentioned before Anna’s small Scottish town is overrun, but the why and how are not the focus – this film centres on the students’ fight to find their loved ones, and the sincerity of the personal stakes enhances the apocalyptic ones. Anna and the Apocalypse might not be original in any way except its combination of genres, but its commitment to – and sometimes wilful subversion of – each trope makes it thoroughly engrossing. Shaun of the Dead may have done the oblivious protagonist first, but combining zombie carnage with two teens performing an infectiously sunny song is a particularly unique experience. The film succeeds because it balances silly self-awareness with emotional honesty – the killer soundtrack and gore are bonuses.
The film’s great asset is its cast. Paul Kaye’s comically uptight vice principal is, to the film’s benefit, the only exaggerated character; the entire young cast give performances full of heart, humanity and strong vocals. Ella Hunt makes Anna’s character growth in the disaster zone believable and sympathetic. Other standouts include Sarah Swire’s sarcastic student journalist and Malcolm Cumming’s best friend, hiding his crush behind bad jokes and Christmas jumpers.
This gem of a genre mashup is rough around the edges, but a true festive delight. It’s a shame it has largely been relegated to late-night screenings in its phased UK release – it bears the marks of a cult horror flick, but its heart is so much larger.
CAST: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Marli Siu, Ben Wiggins, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye
DIRECTOR: John McPhail
WRITERS: Alan McDonald, Ryan McHenry
SYNOPSIS: A zombie apocalypse takes over a sleepy Scottish town at Christmastime, forcing Anna and her friends to slash and sing their way through the undead to survive.