Schoolgirl Anna looks forward to the imminent day when she can escape her cloistered town and discover what the rest of her life has in store for her. Unfortunately, as Christmas approaches an outbreak of zombies descends upon the world, and to have any chance of survival, Anna and her friends need to fight their way through the army of undead with slashing, stabbing, crushing and bashing. And singing.
How do you make a zombie apocalypse film stand out, when countless numbers of them are churned out year after year and every possible variation has been done to death, before being risen from the grave and killed again? Answer: you make it a Christmas musical. Anna and the Apocalypse’s combination of horror, humour and songs is highly reminiscent of Once More, With Feeling (the famous musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The mix of genres is balanced perfectly, and the song routines – some even complete with varying levels of elaborate choreography – establish the tone of misanthropic humour before the death and destruction even properly gets underway.
Early songs reflect the teenagers’ frustration with small town life (Break Away) and growing acceptance that the idealism they were taught as young children is a lie (No Such Thing as a Hollywood Ending). The cynical subject matter deliberately contrasts against the saccharine insipience of High School Musical, and any possible equivalence is then obliterated by the filthiest Christmas song you’ve ever heard that turns every holiday motif you can think of into smutty yet hilarious innuendo.
While this goes on the quiet beginnings of the zombie outbreak gradually surface until everything goes to hell in complexly composited scene that sees Anna dancing down the street and singing optimistically with her headphones in, oblivious to the tsunami of carnage rolling around and behind her, and from there a steady blend of violence and comedy is maintained right up to the film’s closing moments.
The visceral gore is a balanced mix of CGI and practical effects, and the numerous action sequences are an assortment of anarchic combat, frantic scrambling for survival and full-bloodied humour, a fight in a bowling alley with improvised weaponry being a particular standout.
The humour does dry up at points when things start to get serious. Much of the plot involves people who have been separated from their friends and family trying to find each other, and heavily emphasises the need for human connection in situations where fear and despair have set in, which also echoes the sense of isolation that lonely people often feel at Christmas.
As the eponymous heroine, Ella Hunt combines a fresh-faced purity and implacable determination that evokes horror starlets both traditional and modern, while the diverse assortment of supporting characters such as Anna’s friendzoned BFF, a teen journalist, an arrogant jock, a lovestruck couple, and the school’s odious headmaster, all keep interactions varied and interesting.
Anna and the Apocalypse is a compelling genre mashup that manages the rare achievement of doing service to each of its component facets. Its memorable songs, entertaining action, over the top gore and all-important humanity all combine into stand-out genre fare, and its seasonal setting should make it an annual favourite among horror fans.
ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: JOHN MCPHAIL / SCREENPLAY: ALAN MCDONALD, RYAN MCHENRY / STARRING: ELLA HUNT, MALCOLM CUMMING, SARAH SWIRE, CHRISTOPHER LEVEAUX, MARLI SIU, BEN WIGGINS, MARK BENTON, PAUL KAYE / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 30TH