ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE
Written by Alan Macdonald, Ryan McHenryDirected by John McPhail
ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE is a what you say… A horror? Okay, it is Frightfest. A comedy. Yes, there’s a rich history of splicing those two … And a musical? And a Christmas film? Surely that’s too much… Right?
The ambitious idea is born out of the award winning short ZOMBIE MUSICAL written and directed by Ryan McHenry. Sadly he died from cancer in 2015, but before he passed he okayed the continued development of the feature film version.
It stars Ella Hunt in the titular role. If you saw her play Sheridan Smith’s daughter in THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME, earlier this year, you’re aware she is an acting talent on the up and in this role she is equally as impressive. Her ambitions of leaving the sleepy town of Little Haven and seeing the world are cut short when she wakes up one morning to a zombie outbreak. She teams up with her friends to make the all-action, blood soaked journey through the walking dead hordes and be reunited with her father. He is holed up with the tyrannical headmaster – Mr Savage. Every disaster film requires a selfish individual to work against the group and Paul Kaye’s cartoon villain is it.
Director John McPhail drops in his nods to the zombie film canon when he can. For example, Anna’s first encounter with a zombie is in a graveyard – a la Barbara in Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Or there’s the deliciously knowing shot that homages Edgar Wright’s faces at the window from SHAUN OF THE DEAD as our heroes peer into the school staff room.
The jokes come thick and fast, but not at the expense of the drama or horror. It’s a playful film, but for all the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL jazz hands on display, McPhail stays resolutely committed to keeping it R-rated at every opportunity – heads are decapitated, flesh is ripped from bones, baseball bats smash undead faces, chisels gouge out eyes etc. Even the lyrics feature the occasion ‘fuck’ in them.
Our musical taste will play a big part in your overall enjoyment of ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE. It will either have you bouncing in your seat or counting the minutes to end of the song and dance routines, but the tones and styles do at least vary. For every fist raising, Journey-esque power chorus, there are ballads and punk tunes to be heard too. The reviewer’s personal fave was the celebratory ditty performed by Paul Kaye when his headmaster character declares no one can stop him now.
ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE is a rare concoction. It’s the happiest, most gleeful gore-frenzy depiction of a zombie apocalypse you’ll ever see. What’s more, after repeat viewings you’ll get to sing along with it too.
An instant cult classic? Hubbub was strong in the cinema foyer afterwards, but only time will tell if it’s a unique idea done well or a crowd pleaser that can break out of the genre bubble that’s blown up around it since World Premiering at Fantastic Fest almost 12 months ago.