Horror musicals have never been a hot commodity in the film industry. There is something about a horror musical that just isn’t easy to market to a large audience. Much of the horror community seems averse to musicals in general and viewers outside of the horror community can’t seem to handle the combination of dark horror themes and happy(ish) musical themes. What I’m trying to say is: the audience for a horror musical is rather small and when one finally does get made it’s always a crapshoot in terms of quality. For every Rocky Horror Picture Show or Little Shop of Horrors, we get a Stage Fright or a Suck. John McPhail’s Scottish film Anna and the Apocalypse is the latest horror musical to finish production and I’m happy to report that is every bit as wonderful as its trailer suggests. Filled with solid performances, a fantastic score and buckets of blood, Anna and the Apocalypse is sure to find a sizable audience once it gets released.
Anna (Ella Hunt, a revelation) is living a rather unremarkable life in the small town of Little Haven with aspirations of traveling the world before heading to university. One morning, she wakes up to discover that a zombie apocalypse has started in her neighborhood. Aided by her friends
Lord Friend Zone John (Malcolm Cumming), Steph (Sarah Swire) and Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Anna must travel to her high school which has been marked as a rendezvous point for the army. Along the way they much overcome obstacles such as zombified snowmen, a manic bachelor party, and high school hormones while singing, dancing and bludgeoning the occasional zombie horde along the way.
Anna and the Apocalypse originated as the short film Zombie Musical from creator Ryan McHenry. McHenry had planned on making a full-length feature out of the short, but he tragically passed away from cancer before he could even start production on the film. In an effort to honor his wishes, McHenry’s childhood friend and producing partner Naysun Alae-Carew set out to make a feature-length version Zombie Musical a reality. Screenwriter Alan McDonald was brought in to produce a script and Anna and the Apocalypse was born.
Performances are solid across the board, with relative newcomer Hunt turning in a remarkable performance as Anna. A mixture of Amber Tamblyn, Anne Hathaway and Emmy Rossum (with the singing talents of the last two), Hunt is simply wonderful. While Anna is most definitely the lead of the film, she does not carry the film by herself. The supporting players are each given plenty of moments to shine. Swire (who pulls double-duty as the film’s choreographer) is the standout, given a multitude of solos that she belts with the appropriate amount of gravitas. Cummings’ John is awkwardly endearing as he pines after Anna and Leveaux, admittedly the least served of the quartet, still has one catchy number.
Speaking of, you want to know about the songs, right? When it comes to musicals there are always going to be a few songs that don’t fully work (aka filler songs). I like to think that if at least 75% of the songs do work then it is a successful musical. Out of the 10 musical numbers (11 if you count the animated opening credits number), there is only one clunker. That is a remarkable success rate for a musical. Trust me when I say you will want to purchase this soundtrack the second the credits roll (I practically begged for one when I interviewed the cast). The majority of the songs are duets or group numbers, with the occasional solo making an appearance (the audience favorite was the hilarious solo “Unload My Sack”, which is sure to be a popular number at karaoke bars every holiday season). A late-in-the-game number from Ben Wiggins’ bad boy Nick also proves to be one of the more memorable numbers in the film, if only for its brilliant combination of dance and fight choreography. Swire’s does a phenomenal job with all of the choreography in the film. So many a movie musical seem to forget about the importance of choreography (just look at Mamma Mia!), and it’s refreshing to see Anna and the Apocalypse is not one of those films.
Lest you think that Anna and the Apocalypse goes easy on the gore, rest assured that McPhail injects plenty of macabre moments into the proceedings. The blood flows. The only area where Anna in the Apocalypse truly falters is in innovation. This is a zombie movie through and through and McDonald and McHenry don’t seem to want to do anything new with the sub-genre (other than make it a musical). The story plays out with all of the familiar beats as most other zombie movies, with the most comparable film being Shaun of the Dead, a film which McPhail and editor Mark Hermida pay considerable homage to with rapid quick cuts and a similar style of humor. There are jokes aplenty in Anna and the Apocalypse and most of them land, but the ones that don’t stick out like a sore thumb. This is to be expected from comedies, of course, but there are times when the film seems to think it’s a lot more clever than it actually is.
But really, who cares about any of that when the movie is just so much fun. McPhail, McHenry and McDonald (whoa) have injected so much heart into Anna and the Apocalypse that it overshadows nearly all of its negative qualities. McHenry would be proud of the film his friends have made. It is an earnest and joyous film that doesn’t talk down to its audience. If you enjoy musicals, Anna and the Apocalypse is sure to earn a spot on your annual holiday viewing list (right next to Gremlins and the upcoming Better Watch Out). Don’t miss this when it gets released!