EIFF’ 18 Review – Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

The words ‘Scottish Christmas Zombie High School Musical’ may not get you drooling with excitement but if that bizarre genre mesh has piqued your interest then you’re in luck because such a film has been made and it’s called Anna and the Apocalypse. Director John McPhail serves up a gory, angst-ridden, surprisingly festive affair in which the titular Anna (Ella Hunt) and her pals must battle the undead with tongue firmly in cheek throughout. Don’t ask how and certainly don’t ask why just watch as teenagers dance and whirl around decapitating zombies and complaining about their gloomy love life all through the wonderful medium of song.

It’s a fairly understated start for the teenagers: Anna falls out with her father (Mark Benning) as she wants to put off uni so she can travel around Australia, best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) can’t profess his love for Anna, school journalist Steph can’t believe the school won’t take her story about the homeless seriously, school bully Nick (Ben Wiggins) is generally being a dick, you get the picture – this is a normal school (in which everyone expresses their emotion by singing). There are a few musical numbers a la High School Musical early on as the kids dance around the lunch hall complaining about their lot in life. There’s even a Christmas talent show featuring a hilariously raunchy number about Father Christmas sang by highly-strung performer Lisa (Marli Siu).

The next day, however, as Anna and John obliviously wander into school, belting out a rousing number, we see society collapsing around them, an explosion here, a car crash there, zombies munching human flesh everywhere. It’s reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead, a compliment any Zombie comedy should hope to achieve. Anna and friends must battle their way to school in order to rescue their parents despite the machinations of nasal soon-to-be-headmaster Savage (Paul Kaye). He has a great deal of fun disciplining children before his eventual slide towards lunatic demagoguery. The children, glued to their phones, have been “zombies” for a long time already in his eyes.

Despite its wacky genre mash-up, Anna and the Apocalypse plays out rather typically: the angst is all very teenage, the deaths all very gory, though the Christmas leaves a little to be desired in the merry department. McPhail does well steer this ship in the right direction so that it doesn’t feel all too ridiculous or a big snide joke. Everything is taken seriously despite the setup and everyone buys in. The film is far from a sarcastic jibe at its genres, it’s a celebration of them. The set pieces are when the film really shines as the actors show off their singing and the rest of the film has fun showing off some zombie-induced carnage.

The acting is all solid, yet due to its nature Anna and the Apocalypse may never be able to escape its hectic typing, making the finished product much more forgettable than the way you’d describe it to your friends: “it’s a Scottish Christmas Zombie High School Musical”. It’s hard to make a film like this and make it memorable for anything but its genre. When all is said and done, most of the tropes are adhered to, they’re just juxtaposed with tropes from other genres you wouldn’t expect.

Anna and the Apocalypse is a film for genre geeks or anyone looking for something different. It offers up exactly what it promises, though it’s hardly life-changing in its runtime. Everyone on screen is having a blast and that certainly translates to your own enjoyment. I may not have left the cinema having learned anything new, but I left with a smile on my face.

Ewan Wood | [rating=3]

Comedy, Musical, Horror | UK, 2017 | 15 | Edinburgh Film Festival | Dir.John McPhail | Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Marli Siu, Sarah Swirie