Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
She’ll Slash. She’ll Stab. She’ll Sing.
We’ve had zom-rom-coms — that’s zombie romantic comedies for the uninitiated — before in the form of Edgar Wright’s superlative Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Jonathan Levine’s pretty decent Warm Bodies (2013). But now the low-budget, high-concept British effort Anna and the Apocalypse has decided to both raise the bar and break the rhyming scheme by bringing us a zom-rom-com musical. Yep, there are hordes of the undead, there’s a bit of a love triangle, a few laughs, and a few song and dance numbers, because what the world has really been waiting for is a cannibalistic catastrophe you can groove to.
It’s December and Christmas is just around the corner. The eponymous Anna’s (Ella Hunt) biggest issue is trying to tell her overly protective dad, Tony (Mark Benton), that she wants to take a year off between high school and university. That’s until zombies start attacking her sleepy little hometown of Little Haven in general, and her high school in particular. Then she only has to worry about the starting-to-get-quite-uncomfortable-actually affections of her best mate John (Malcolm Cumming), and her feelings for her bad boy ex Nick (Ben Wiggins). Oh, and the ravening hordes of undead. Luckily it’s nothing a song or two won’t fix.
Directed by John McPhail, Where Do We Go From Here? (2015), and adapted from and expanding upon the BAFTA-winning 2010 short film, Zombie Musical (created by the late Ryan McHenry), Anna and the Apocalypse is a big-hearted, game film, and it feels a bit mean-spirited to stick the boot in too hard. Sadly, that’s what we’re here to do, so let’s get it over with.
While a difficult needle to thread, horror/ comedy hybrids have worked in the past — you’ve got the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Cabin in the Woods (2011), Evil Dead 2 (1987), and so on. This is largely because the fear and laughter responses are actually triggered by very similar stimuli — the shock of the unexpected (that’s not the only reason, but this is a review, not a dissertation). Throwing elements of a musical into the mix, which relies heavily on overt structure and expectations, simply doesn’t work. Anna and the Apocalypse is trying to serve too many masters, and while the kills and the gore gags are serviceable, the songs are catchy enough, the dances well-choreographed, and the jokes … well, the jokes are fine without being at all memorable, the whole thing fails to come together in a satisfying way. Moments work in isolation, but the film, as a whole, is unsatisfying.
It’s a shame because there’s some good stuff here. Ella Hunt, Robot Overlords (2014), is an engaging, charismatic lead as Anna Shepherd, and while almost nobody in the supporting cast manages to quite get up to her knock ‘em dead level, they all acquit themselves well enough — the best of the bunch is comedian Paul Kaye, Game of Thrones (2011), who milks the role of the evil school administrator Arthur Savage for all it’s worth. The best zombie flicks always have human villains at the end of the day, and he’s ours.
Elsewhere, it’s just hard to get invested in the lives of the rank and file soon-to-be-eatens. A gay American student Steph (Sarah Swire, who doubles as the film’s dance choreographer) rails against social injustice for a bit, a lovey-dovey couple Chris and Lisa (Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu respectively) cling to each other throughout the crisis, and Anna’s love triangle lurches towards its inevitable conclusion. There’s a stab at pathos in between the murders and the melodies, but it never lands with any impact, mainly because the whole exercise feels too contrived.
Top marks for effort, though — Anna and the Apocalypse feels like a labor of love, and you get the sense that everyone involved gave it their all. It’s just a damn shame it’s to so little result.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Travis Johnson