Let’s be honest: even if you’re a cynic with a heart of stone (raises hand) how could anyone not be at least a little charmed by a film that’s willfully described as a teen comedy/zombie movie that’s also a musical? It sounds like a rhetorical question, but Saturday night at Fantastic Fest with the world premiere of Anna And The Apocalypse.
Originally based on the short Zombie Musical by Ryan McHenry, who scored viral fame a few years back with his brilliant Vine series Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal. After McHenry lost his battle with cancer, his friend and colleague John McPhail took the reigns, turning his idea into a full-length feature film.
Set in small-town Scotland during the holiday season, the film starts as a typical typical teenage melodrama, with a typical teenager, Anna (Ella Hunt), morose over her father’s (Mark Benton) disapproval of the fact that her post-high school plans involve traveling to Australia instead of going to college. Sharing in her adolescent discontent is her best friend John (Malcolm Cunning), who’s plagued with unrequited love for Anna. Rounding out the group is Steph (Sarah Swire), an American ex-pat who’s forced to celebrate Christmas alone while her parents vacation in Mexico.
It’s all the earmarks of standard teen cinema fodder, but this time punctuated with the characters breaking into song and dance numbers to express their melancholy woes. Then, through ominous background chatter, it turns out that so many people have been falling ill with an undefined disease that it even throwing the school’s big holiday show into disarray. But the stress the schedule changes put supreme villain/headmaster-to-be Mr. Savage (Paul Kaye) is paled when a full-blown zombie outbreak occurs.
Separated from their friends, Anna and her crew have to make it back to their school to learn the (increasingly likely) grim fate of everyone they know. They also break into occasional song, narrating their arduous, and sometimes deadly, trek across town.
A delightfully bizarre genre-bending experiment that manages to not pitfall in its own concept by giving the audience genuine characters, grounded choreography (courtesy of co-star Sarah Swire), and really catchy songs that manage to stick in your head after the credits roll. And, like any good comedy featuring zombies, there are a couple loving nods to Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead sprinkled throughout.
It’s a wonderfully joyous ride, with its only real flaw being that there’s a span of time around two-thirds through that could’ve used more song-and-dance numbers. Regardless, Anna And The Apocalypse will take its rightful place alongside both Gremlins and Die Hard for essential viewing during every holiday season from here on.