Sometimes the journey of a film can be just as interesting as the finished product. Anna and the Apocalypse, which is on the verge of starting its cinematic run has been around in its finished form for over a year. It premiered at the 2017 Fantastic Fest where the buzz around it really started. Further film festival appearances at Sitges, Edinburgh film festival and others raised its online profile even higher culminating in nominations at the Scottish BAFTAs and a major cinema distribution deal from the resurrected Orion imprint. The film is being described as a Christmas Rom-Zom-Com musical, which is accurate but doesn’t fully give a true impression of just how much fun the movie is.
It is just before Christmas in the town of Little Haven. Anna has had enough of the town, her high school experience and life in general. She longs to travel, the further away the better. Of course her father disagrees. After the death of his wife, Anna is all he has left. As preparations continue for the end of term dance there are strange occurrences in the town with people falling ill and starting to be come part of the ravenous undead. By the time that Anna and her friends realise what is actually going on it is a fight for their very survival.
This film is a joy from start to finish. The director John McPhail has an impressive body of work that feeds into this film. With a background in comedy, through his excellent shorts and debut feature Where Do We Go From Here, he has a real grasp of what works in a genre feature. Above all else there has to be a story. Here the characters are introduced in such a way as to engage the audience. With each new personality coming on to the screen you want to find out what their journey is. That isn’t something that is easy to pull off, especially in a reasonably large cast.
Anna is played by Ella Hunt. Through her performance she is able to flesh out the title character. The success of the film rests on you engaging with her as the story is told, for the most part, through her eyes. She is the guide for the audience as we enter the world and see first hand just how the zombie apocalypse unfolds. Her performance has to show the problems that Anna has in terms of her life. She is in the classic situation where she is trapped by duty to her Dad and just wanting to get a fresh start so she really start her life.
In any good horror film there is a selection of characters within the group of survivalists that serve both the story and the expectations of the genre. There is the virgin (male in this case), the outsider and the loving couple and the high school jock. It’s a given that not all will make it to the end (no spoiler, it’s just the way it is). Each of the supporting roles are given enough screen time to give them a story which leads to you rooting for them when the inevitable attacks start.
The clever use of the genres allows the film to take a few left turns. With the Christmas setting we get the chance to see a zombie snowman which is a horrific as it sounds. The festive season is always full of glitter, parties and over indulgence. The film takes this and runs with it. The scope of the off the wall horror is increased with all the baubles and tinsel. As has been shown with other genre mixing movies, if done well, a good story allows all the elements to work together. So, here it isn’t a stretch to have the horror, Christmas and the rom-com elements fusing together.
The musical pieces are used to great effect here. Rather than being a jarring interlude to the proceedings each song serves to move the story forward or explain why a character behaves as they do. It doesn’t hurt that they are catchy as hell. The highlight is the soldier at war song fronted by Anna’s former boyfriend, the previously mentioned high school jock. He and his friends have formed a gang that take great delight in dispatching the zombie hordes in ever more inventive ways. The song that he fronts, Soldier at war, is a cracking take on the tunes that accompanied the best of the cheesy action films of the eighties. It is funny and knowing while still being relevant to what is going on.
The movie does have some rather cool call backs to some previous horror movies. Some of the dialogue references the Scream movies in that the protagonists know what to do to evade or defeat certain zombies. It takes some of the standard tropes and twists it a little when characters don’t quite do what is expected of them. it is a nice touch that keeps you guessing. There is also a short musical refrain that is pure John Carpenter which places the movie in very good company.
Anna And The Apocalypse is a film you should get out and see.