Anna And The Apocalypse


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Anna And The Apocalypse
"Any film that has both a fight director and a dance choreographer is probably doing something right."

Opening with a charming animated title sequence that gives a taste of the impending dooms to come, Anna And The Apocalypse is a zombie inflected high school musical. No, I didn't think I'd enjoy it either. I was wrong.

Any film that has both a fight director and a dance choreographer is probably doing something right, and Anna And The Apocalypse has a lot more to its credit. Starting with the eponymous Anna, in fact, Ella Hunt, whose CV includes genre outings like Intruders and Robot Overlords, and who here convinces in each of the roles any teenage girl is expected to play depending on context. There's being daughter to her father (Mark Benton's Tony, who seems a nice enough cove despite his choice in football team); a good pupil to her not-quite-yet-headmaster (Paul Kaye's Savage, a didactic dictator in waiting); and that's even before the more complicated affairs of the teenage heart.

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I don't know if it's a formal rule of musicals that you should be able to guess the title of a song after hearing it once, but it seems to hold here - and as our bright and breezy cast were explaining that there's No Such Thing (As A Hollywood Ending) a line was delivered with gusto - "this isnae Disney" - and I was on board. More so than when my expectations were defeated by a preventer. More so than when something akin to paper cutouts had the undead rambling around the credits at the start. More so, even, than the fact that this end of the world is happening somewhere around Greenock. This is an alternate Christmas movie for a generation whose parents claimed Die Hard for that role, and it does so with verve and moxie and a shopping trolley full of tunes.

This is a proper zombie movie, paying reference to or playing with most of the conventions of the genre - up to and including arguments as to whether zombies were real, apparently predicated upon the fictional zombies existing in a world where zombies could also exist. There's an absolutely pristine sequence executed behind the song New Morning that's bound up entirely in the juxtapositon between teenage optimism and the chaos of adulthood, the isolating effects of headphones and the absolute glee of the undead amok. There are shambling hordes, severed limbs, and presumably George Romero held the stepladder while Chekhov nailed a penguin costume above the mantlepiece.

It's also funny, outright audience laughter funny, the kind that comes from unexpected answers in a song called Where Is The Light?, the kind that comes from ball-pit arguments about the fates of celebrities, and in fairness the kind that comes from lines that South Park was crossing 20 years ago. There are bodily fluids, erotic contraband, a musical number at the school talent show that finds dirty ground between single and double-entendres, a territory best defined mathematically as "root two". The usual 'man is the real monster' / 'capitalism is the all consuming' / 'the British educational system revisits the depravities of latter day colonialism predicated upon class where race is not available' territories explored by tellings of Frankenstein or blanks of the Dead or more recent works like Old Boys are here too, but with fancier footwork and catchier tunes.

There's pathos too, tragedy even, which is more than one might expect from a film with a cameo from Jackie Bird. I'll wager that within days of its release there will be complex online fandom schisms about Sarah Swire's Steph, the openly gay editor of the school newspaper, who for a wide variety of reasons (including close cropped blonde hair) I assume tumblr will, if I have the argot correct, "stan hard". It is rare outwith the work of the Coens to have to consider both bowling alleys and patricide, but Anna and her apocalypse count these concerns among their revelations.

Director John McPhail's second feature, it's been adapted with the help of Alan McDonald from Ryan McHenry's 2011 short Zombie Musical. McHenry sadly passed in 2015, but this film would seem to owe its charm as much to his initial notion as to later execution. The endless horde of zombie films can at times seem inescapable, the variety sometimes a tinkering around the edges. Blood Fest made reference to this with a line expressing gratitude about the fact that those off its mortal coil just shuffled, "No Snyders, no Boyles". The best do something extra with them, whether its extended metaphorical weight about mindless consumption in Dawn Of The Dead (and perhaps to ironic extent in the remake), or using those tropes as background to a different story (yer man Shaun).

Anna is firmly in the latter camp, even finding time to prod toxic notions of masculinity like 'the friend zone' as it explores the transition from germ free adolescence to the grim and grimy business of adulthood, and, as the old saying goes, backwards and in heels. Though serious at times, this is a film that's fun. I don't know if it'll get audience participation shows like Rocky Horror or achieve singalong screenings while still in cinemas like The Greatest Showman, and in truth it's more geographically than artistically proximate to Hamilton, but I do expect those who see it to enjoy it. Showing skill behind the camera, and plenty of talent in front, its fancy, dance-y, necromancy, and you should give it a chance, see?

Reviewed on: 02 Jul 2018
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When the zombie apocalypse hits the sleepy town of Little Haven - at Christmas - teenager Anna and her high school friends have to fight, sing and dance to survive, with the undead horde all around them.
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Director: John McPhail

Writer: Alan McDonald, Ryan McHenry

Starring: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye, Ella Jarvis, Calum Cormack, Euan Bennet, Sean Connor, Janet Lawson, Janet Lawson, Kirsty Strain

Year: 2017

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: UK, US

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