Ok, so nobody wanted to go see Anna and the Apocalypse with me, so I went to this British zombie teen musical by myself. Yes, you read that right: British. Zombie. Teen. Musical. Quite a mixture. (Maybe I get now why nobody wanted to see it with me). But I was intrigued by the wonderful trailer I saw for the movie, so I had to go, but I really had no idea what to expect. And what I got was an fresh and spirited take on some massively familiar genres—and ones you don’t often see together. So, let’s break it down:
Anna and the Apocalypse is set in a small town in England at Christmastime. At first I thought it would be like Shaun of the Dead, another British zombie movie that’s REALLY British, but there’s really nothing that makes Anna and the Apocalypse stand out as specifically British, other than the dismal and dreary weather. There also is a weird mish-mosh of accents among the main characters: British, Irish, Scottish, American—not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it just added to the already-weird dynamic of this movie.
Speaking of weird dynamics, the movie starts out as a normal teen movie and then morphs into a horror movie with hardly a beat—well, actually, it happens during a song, so there are lots of beats. The horror aspects of this movie are quite graphic but the great thing about Anna and the Apocalypse is the fact that it never bogs down in the moribund nature of the world having become overrun by flesh-eating undead because it’s just too busy to dwell. The movie clips along at a crazy pace—even the zombies are the fastest and most nimble I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this movie is hardcore violent, but you hardly notice because at its heart, it’s just a teen musical!
Yes, I felt decades too old to be watching this movie. The only thing I felt that made it acceptable for me to be watching it is the fact that I’ve seen every episode of Glee. And, for the record, if you loved Glee, you’ll love Anna and the Apocalypse. Why? Because they both manage to cram every high school/teenager cliché, stereotype and archetype into one batch of characters, and they break out into song, of course! But, unlike Glee, these characters are actually endearing and the songs are a lot of fun. The original songs (by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly) are hit and miss, but the ones that really hit are catchy and lively. But what really makes everything work is the energy that these kids bring to it. Heading up the cast is the Kate Middleton lookalike Ella Hunt, who plays Anna, and her best friend, John, played by Malcolm Cumming (who looks like himself). Hunt is beautiful and charming and Cumming is equally dorky and adorable—we just can’t help but fall in love with both of them right off the bat. Then there are the cast of supporting characters, featuring standouts Sarah Swire as the American lesbian, and Ben Wiggins as the sexy bad boy. What I love the best about this movie is it makes the conscious decision to have the zombies be an obstacle, not the focus. All the focus here is on the characters and their individual stories. We get to know each one, and, amazingly, even with the pace and the distractions, director John McPhail and writers Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry manage to create real characters who you feel you know and end up caring about. And, yes, on top of all that, they sing!
You just don’t see this on the big screen much anymore. You see it on television and you see it a lot on stage, but in mainstream movies, the musical format is all but dead. But, honestly, because of the growing influence and appeal of Broadway, along with the popularity of TV shows like Glee and movies like Pitch Perfect, the time is ripe to bring them back, especially ones with a teen appeal. The songs in Anna and the Apocalypse are toe-tapping and witty and even though there are a couple of awkward numbers, the majority of the singing scenes are well integrated and very much in the spirit of the movie musical classics.
I was actually thinking to myself during the movie that I bet this gets made into a stage show down the road—it’s got everything a Broadway hit needs: catchy tunes, young characters and a gimmick. That’s what the zombies would be on Broadway. But, in this movie, I wasn’t sure which was the gimmick: the zombies or the singing. And that’s why it’s so darn entertaining. There is something so incongruous about characters singing and dancing while there are flesh-eating zombies in the background. And, obviously, that’s the whole point.
This one movie manages to merge three different, disparate genres into one movie that actually works. If you love musicals, you’ll love the upbeat, original songs performed with energy and irony. If you love teen movies, this one will check all the boxes, and, if you love horror movies, you’ll get more flesh-eating and brain smashing than an entire season of The Walking Dead.
Anna and the Apocalypse is a clever and original mix of so many things and does find lots of ways to be charming and entertaining, despite lots of inconsistent plot and logistical elements. But this is the last movie in the world to overthink, so, if you just go with it, you’ll have one hell of a good time. If you can get someone to go with you.