When Shaun of the Dead came out it was touted as the first “rom-zom-com.” John McPhail’s Anna and the Apocalypse goes one better, by making a zom-com-musical! The headline is cheesy but let’s get the obvious out of the way: it’s a must-own and every word from hereon out will be nothing short of unadulterated praise for Anna and the Apocalypse, coming to DVD, Blu-ray and digital tomorrow. With a buoyant and perfectly calibrated soundtrack that should have received an Oscar nomination (sorry, but every song here is better than “Shallow”), a script that tackles some deep-seated issues and (as far as I’m concerned) says a lot about millennial, and a wondrous cast, now is perfect time to give Anna and the Apocalypse your time and money.
The residents of Little Haven aren’t have a great Christmas. Despite the presence of bouncy Christmas songs reminding the town that “Christmas means nothing with you,” everyone can’t seem to get what they want. High school senior Anna (Ella Hunt) wants to skip college and travel which has led to an argument with her father. Her best friend, John (Malcolm Cumming) wants Anna to stay, and to be brave enough to declare his feelings for her. Everything turns to crap though when a zombie invasion hits the town, leaving the kids to fight their own battles.
I mentioned this on Twitter already, but Anna and the Apocalypse is the millennial’s zombie movie. And I don’t mean that it’s a zombie film for hipsters. Much of what McPhail and screenwriters Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry looks at how this apocalypse divides people into cynics, optimists, and something in-between. Ella Hunt’s incredibly nuanced performance as Anna kicks things off. She’s a teenage girl desperate to escape her small town to avoid conformity. She wants to travel and find herself, causing a rift between her pragmatic father. Once the zombies take over, Anna never loses her optimism, reminding everyone that she will escape dammit.
Much of what follows is watching the interrelationships between people play out as the zombies amass around them. Compared to other features in the genre, the zombies here aren’t particularly special. They’re just folks, grandparents. Authority figures like the high school principle, deliriously played by Paul Kaye, are presented as impotent until the invasion happens and then he’s finally able to wield the power he feels he’s owed. Anna and her friends come to understand the most frightening aspect of adulthood, realizing that friends and parents won’t always be there to help you, and that the biggest fear is having to stand on your own two feet. But with songs!
Make no mistake, Anna and the Apocalypse’s soundtrack is utter perfection. Songwriters Tommy Reilly and Roddy Hart perfectly encapsulate what makes music so compelling, creating songs that easily stand alone as pop songs, but are enhanced by what’s happening on-screen. The true stand-out though is “Soldier at War,” an “Eye of the Tiger”/’80s influenced song of machismo for a group of teen boys out to kill zombies. The soundtrack has been on repeat on my Spotify since December and I doubt I’ll stop humming “Break Away” or “Hollywood Ending” anytime soon.
Ella Hunt is the star but the rest of the cast is just as fantastic, portraying high schoolers who feel authentically raised on horror movies. (You have no idea how refreshing it is to watch a horror movie where no one has to Google “how do you kill a zombie?”) All the cast is pitch-perfect – literally! – even Kaye, who’s Principal Savage could just as easily have become a caricature.
I absolutely, positively ADORE Anna and the Apocalypse and I believe you will too. Support unique and vibrant cinema like this by purchasing the movie in any format that suits you. Seriously, blind-buy it! I don’t advocate that often, but you won’t be disappointed.
Anna and the Apocalypse drops on digital, DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow.