Director: John McPhail
Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye
Watch Anna and the Apocalypse online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
As an eye-widening hybrid of high school musical, zombie actioner, and Christmas film, there’s no denying that Anna And The Apocalypse is the best there is that what it does. Coming to VOD after its wild cult success in the US and limited cinema run in the UK last December, director John McPhail’s winning Scottish indie is the kind of wildly original crowd-pleaser that will delight you all year round.
When school breaks up for the Christmas holidays, Anna (Ella Hunt) wants to leave her Scottish hometown behind and see the world. This urge becomes considerably more pressing when the town is overrun by the living dead. Backed up by a gang of her classmates (Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Marli Siu, and Ben Wiggins), Anna is forced to fight her way through the ranks of the living dead in order to save her dad (Mark Benton) and musically expresses herself as she goes.
Although it’s adapted from Ryan McHenry’s short film Zombie Musical, this always feels like an original. In typically reductive fashion, marketing pull-quotes have described it as “Shaun Of The Dead meets La La Land”, but despite any other influences that may occur to you, what’s appealing is the unique way in which all the wide-ranging bits come together.
In the main, it’s a triumph of performance, with utterly brilliant turns from the entire teenage cast and reliable supporting turns from Benton and Paul Kaye, the latter of whom is having a ball as a truly odious antagonist. Each of the young ensemble proves themselves as a triple threat – singer, dancer, and zombie killer – and they all deserve to go onto bigger and even better things.
They’ve got smashing material to work with, though. The script, co-written by McHenry and Alan McDonald, is really witty and inventive, even in the oversaturated zombie comedy genre. For the first half, it feels like no two zombies die in the same way, right up until the point where circumstances force the characters to choose some iconic signature weapons. Touches like these contribute to the way in which the film assimilates Shaun’s balance of pathos and comedy without ever copying it.
The incredibly catchy soundtrack is a major help too, lending the whole thing a Rocky Horror quality that will surely see it in revival screenings, singalongs, and amateur productions for the foreseeable future. Highlights include the first-act number Hollywood Ending, perky pop tune New Morning, and the rousing ensemble anthem Human Voice, but all the way through, Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly’s songbook comprises wall-to-wall bangers.
An instant, cast-iron cult classic, Anna And The Apocalypse is an utterly irresistible new entry in the Christmas movie canon. It’s not perfect, but it’s impossible to fault the way in which its dark sense of humour and sincere indie pluck complement each other, rather than jarring as they arguably should. By all means, wait until December if you must, but mark this as one to watch now if you haven’t already.