It’s the end of the year, which means a deluge of movies hitting the big screen. One you can’t let get lost in the shuffle is Anna and the Apocalypse.
Let me set up the premise: A small English town at Christmastime. Then a zombie apocalypse breaks out. Oh, and it’s also a musical.
Best of all? It’s brilliant.
Directed by John McPhail and written by Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry, the movie follows Anna. She and her friends are approaching the end of their last school year before university and trying to figure out what’s next when a deadly — or rather, undeadly — virus breaks out.
The movie is hysterical (one of the characters calls Taylor Swift ‘Tay-Tay’); the music, by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly, is genuinely clever and catchy (I already have the soundtrack on repeat); and one of the stand-out characters is queer.
An exceptionally talented bunch
The heart of the movie rests with the young group of students trying to survive not only zombies, but their evil — and entirely human — teacher, Savage (Paul Kaye).
There’s Anna (Ella Hunt) and her group, John (Malcolm Cumming), Lisa (Marli Siu), and Chris (Christopher Leveaux). Plus queer loner Steph (Sarah Swire) and bad boy Nick (Ben Wiggins).
Swire is a particular scene-stealer as American transfer student Steph in the film.
As she bonds with the new group, overcoming her own struggles of abandonment and isolation, Sarah is often the voice of reason when going up against the undead. Swire delivers her lines with a deadpan humor and less-than-impressed facial expression, earning big laughs in return.
Hunt’s Anna is the emotional anchor of the film and it’s clear from this film she needs to become a breakout in Hollywood. Not only is she a talented actor and singer, but she can absolutely make you cry.
Every actor delivers 110% performances, and it’s easy to root for the students. A close-knit group of friends, complete with inside jokes and genuine affection for one another, grounds the otherwise ridiculousness of this film as it takes on zombies and big musical numbers.
Just check out foursome Anna, John, Lisa, and Chris in the number Hollywood Ending.
Get ready for the catchiest music
Speaking of the music, there’s no dud in this film. Every song has its place and they’re all certified bops.
Some stand-outs are Marli Siu giving a Marilyn-esque performance during a school show, and Ben Wiggins’ big zombie-killing number.
Titled Soldier at War, Wiggins gives a performance that begs to be seen on a stage with live energy. He channels the likes of Freddie Mercury, Prince, and Michael Jackson in his voice and swagger, and it is intoxicating to watch.
As much as you may want to hit the character of Nick (his joke about a tampon is one of the few genuinely cringey moments of the film), you can’t help but want to see Wiggins perform again and again.
It deserves all the hype La La Land got and then some.
Not afraid of its own absurd premise
A talented cast and well-written songs are good, but they could have only done so much if this movie’s absurd premise didn’t actually work.
The commitment to this movie, however, makes it shine. There’s enough self-awareness in the film, from incredulousness at being in the center of a zombie apocalypse to referencing zombie movies, that writers McDonald and McHenry are able to strike a perfect balance.
Rather than being afraid of its own high-levels of camp, it leans into them.
Trying to evade zombies under an inflatable pool? Check. Fighting zombies with a giant candy cane? Check. Zombies and shiny tinsel? Check and check.
The great thing about this movie is that really does have something for everyone, or most everyone, at the very least. Even people more averse to horror movies will find joy in it. The movie knows it’s not a typical horror movie, or even a horror movie at all, as it pokes fun at the idea of the undead.
It also has heart, and a lot of it.
As outrageous as the movie gets, it never forgets it’s still telling a story about human characters with human emotions of fear, love, anger, grief, and longing. There are numerous emotional moments that cut through the absurdity, reminding you this movie isn’t just wildly entertaining, but clever and sincere, too.
The movie is currently out in theaters in the US and UK.
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Author: Anya Crittenton