Lauren Miller ‘22 / Emertainment Monthly Web Editor
Think about your favorite holiday movie. Maybe it’s Home Alone or Elf or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Maybe it’s something a little less conventional, like Die Hard or Gremlins or Iron Man 3 (it counts). Now ask, would that movie be better with zombies? Would it be better if it was a musical? Would that movie be better if people performed their hearts out while bashing zombies’ heads in? The answers are yes, yes, and yes and the movie you’re looking for is Anna and the Apocalypse.
Anna and the Apocalypse is the holiday horror comedy musical you never knew you needed, from a team of mostly unknown artists, which makes it all the better. It follows Anna (Ella Hunt), desperate to escape her hometown when the end of her high school career is rudely interrupted by world coming to an end. She and her friends have to slash, tap, bash, dance, and sing their way across to town to safety through a rather festive zombie apocalypse.
Is this a watered down version of Shaun of the Dead? Yes. Is this another original pop musical where the songs kind of bleed into each other, despite being catchy and super danceable? Yes. Is this a film that leans into genre cliches and camp for, at times, cheap laughs? Yes. Is this film a rollicking good time? Hell yes!
If you go into Anna and the Apocalypse wanting nothing more than a “balls to the wall,” corny beyond belief, horror comedy that stuffs as much content into an hour and a half as it can, you will be blown away. This film knows exactly what it is, exactly what it wants to be, and delivers it all to the best of its ability.
It’s funny, first and foremost. Some excellent comedic timing on the part of the ensemble and an easy chemistry between every actor on screen makes sure every joke in the script, even the eye-roll inducing ones, land at least most of the way. But there are layers of humor beyond the wit and wordplay that’s become typical of big-screen comedies. This film leans into more unusual, unique to film outlets of humor: visual gags both within and without the plot (watch the kid playing the tree in the back of Christmas show rehearsal) alongside amped-up sound effects that’ll get at least a few giggles out of you. Even the more horrific and gory moments are played up to comedic effect. Anna and the Apocalypse is a Shaun of the Dead knock-off, but it learned well from Edgar Wright’s style.
Especially since that comedy doesn’t undermine the actual emotional moments of the film. There’s tangible danger and suspense built into the latter half of the film that will take you by surprise. Some particularly emotional moments may even get a tear out of you. The script and score are well balanced, so the musical numbers and humorous sequences never cheapen the heart of the film. It may be a simplistic, slightly muddied heart that comes more from genre conventions than a unique vision of the film, but it’s a heart that beats strong.
Anna and the Apocalypse is not without its cliches. This is movie combines about eight genres, so they can only stray so far from convention. Dead mom angst is introduced within the first fifteen minutes, before the first musical number surprisingly, and manages to stay sprinkled in throughout. The romantic tension of the friend-zone is alive and well here, between Anna and her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming). There’s shoehorned in anti-technology messaging that isn’t grounded enough in the plot or characters to actually land. Some of these cliches are resolved in unexpected and even outright shocking ways, yes, but the first impression they make still cheapens the film as a whole. The music isn’t anything amazing; you won’t be blamed if you can’t remember more than one of the songs a month after seeing it. But they’re fun, they’re entertaining, and they have energy that keeps the film from dragging.
And even cheapened, Anna and the Apocalypse is unabashedly a good time. Not just because Christmas-themed horror comedy musical is the best genre mashup to have ever been invented, but because you can feel the joy that radiates from every person involved. The energy that rolls off of every scene will make it hard to sit still as the film progresses.
After certain musical numbers, it’s hard not to give a standing ovation. In particular, Ben Wiggins’ performance as Anna’s douchey former hook-up absolutely oozes with the joy of an actor going no-holds-barred. His zombie-bashing solo might be the highpoint of the film. Then Paul Kaye gets delectably manic with future-Headmaster Savage’s downward spiral during the crisis and his solo proves an unexpected treat. Even Cumming, saddled with the nice-guys-finish-last lovelorn and adorkable best friend, manages to bring fresh charm to a stale stereotype that makes his presence irresistible and serves up all but two of the most gut-wrenching scenes. Truly, not a soul on screen is anything less than ecstatic to be there.
And you will be too. Sitting in that theater seat, you will want to cry and scream and laugh and dance along with the cast. Please do it. The holidays are a time for joy; Anna and the Apocalypse delivers.
Overall Grade: B+
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