Film review: Anna and the Apocalypse

When the singing stops, the screaming starts in this British zombie musical mash-up

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As Joss Whedon proved in the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Once More, With Feeling, horror and musicals can work surprisingly well together, and there’s no doubt that Scottish film director Ryan McHenry had this in mind when he crafted his zombie musical, a Bafta award-winning short film from which this British film springs forth. Sadly McHenry died before seeing this full-length feature film produced, but co-writer Alan McDonald and director John McPhail make a bold attempt to carry on the work that he began.

This is Shaun of the Dead meets Glee, set in a remote Scottish seaside town over Christmas. Anna and her friends battle high school cliques and grumpy teachers, and ponder what they will do as the last days of school approach and the pressures of adult life loom. But when a zombie outbreak occurs, the gang are forced to battle their way across town to reunite with loved ones and hopefully escape the end of the world.

The first half an hour or so of this mad movie had me grinning. It’s camp and daft, and loads of fun, with some catchy songs to boot. Characters break into song as part of the narrative and their fellow students dance on tables in the dining hall, and it’s so well staged and choreographed that it’s easy to imagine this making a transfer to the stage one day.

Despite the fact that everyone involved looks far too old to be at school in the first place, there are some good performances on show. Ella Hunt is confident in the lead role, delivering great musical numbers and some kick-ass fighting for survival moments, and Mark Benton, playing it straight, is good as Anna’s father, trying to keep it together while grieving for the death of his wife. Sarah Swire outshines everyone as Steph, a character who for some reason is made out to be “weird” despite the fact that the only obvious difference between her and her fellow students is that she has short blonde hair, is a lesbian and works in a shelter feeding homeless people in her spare time.

Paul Kaye overdoes it a bit as the villainous headmaster, however, and there is little to like about Anna’s love interest Nick (Ben Wiggins), a school bully and blatant homophobe and misogynist, who seems at odds with the film’s otherwise camp sensibilities. I found myself wondering why Anna would ever fall for a guy like this.

Obviously, things turn darker and less fun when the zombies arrive. There are still some silly moments, such as a brilliant set piece involving the gang trying to sneak past a zombie horde beneath an upturned ball pool, but the joyous atmosphere, understandably, fades when the biting and bloodletting starts. And unfortunately, what follows is a by the numbers zombie horror, albeit with a musical twist.

There are some nods towards a metaphorical tale here, about the loss of innocence and joy and waking up to the harsh realities of adult life, but the low-key ending in place of the grand finale one might expect from those opening musical numbers feels like a missed opportunity to do something more fun and original. It’s a shame, as there’s lots to love about this film. The first half certainly has the makings of a cult movie, but it goes off track at the end by taking itself so bloody seriously.

Anna and the Apocalypse is released on DVD on 8 April.

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