Tuesday 17 December 2019

Anna And The Apocalypse

Season’s Eatings

Anna And The Apocalypse
UK 2017 Directed by John McPhail
Second Sight Films  Blu Ray Region Free

Well this one’s a breath of fresh air. It’s not without its problems but I finally sat down to watch this for the Christmas season (it only got a very limited release in cinemas Christmas 2018, nowhere I could get to) and had a really positive time with it. If you’re wondering, Anna And The Apocalypse is... and I don’t know if this is a first or not... a Christmas Zombie Musical.

And... yeah...it is kinda brilliant and a huge pat on the back for the cast and crew. Some minor grumbles that I’ll get to in a little while but this one really is a great big ball of zombielicious fun.

Anna, played by the quite marvellous Ella Hunt, is on the last bit of high school but, after the recent death of her mum, her dad... the school janitor... played by the always watchable Mark Benton... is kinda angry at her because she’s bought a ticket for a round the world ‘year out’ before going on to university. She and various friends and colleagues played by the likes of Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux (from Aaaaaaaah! reviewed here) and Marli Siu go through their last day at school which takes up the first twenty minutes to half an hour of the film.

And it’s really to the movie’s credit that the film does take its time to develop, in a humorous way, the little details of all the relationships the characters have with each other before drifting into full on zombie apocalypse mode (the most you get are little ‘scene setter’ snippets about a ‘virus’ heard on news reports in the early stages of the film). What we also get is three songs at least before the carnage kicks in and, luckily, they are the strongest ones of the film and are all easy to get stuck in your head.

That being said, it does start to drag a little before the last pre-zombie song kicks in but, as it happens, the song in question is a pretty amazing, drop dead sleazy number in the style of Santa Baby, called It’s That Time Of Year Again... only with heavier double entendres such as “I've warmed your milk and made your favourite snack, So come on over and unload your sack.”

Then, just as you think the film is going to start to outstay it’s welcome, bang with the zombie shenanigans and a brilliantly choreographed musical number sang as two solos from Ella Hunt and Malcolm Cumming who are oblivious to the ongoing carnage around them. And then you get a great encounter with a zombie snowman and we’re off and running with the whole survival horror, musical Christmas genre mash up.

One of the good things about the film, or at least the characters at its heart, is the way everybody is always there to help one another while, at the same time, the writers pull no punches on the kind of character losses you just don’t want to have to deal with after spending some nice, fun times with these people. It does, truth be told, start slowing down in the middle but I think that’s possibly just my reaction to the remaining songs which seem a little less stronger than the opening salvo of musical brilliance. I suspect that, now I know the songs (and also need to check out the second disc on this extras crammed Blu Ray release, which contains and extended director’s cut), then I’ll probably have an even better time with it on subsequent spins (which might well be every Christmas).

Also, while the cast is absolutely spot on, I have to single out Hunt in the title role because she manages to really convey a ‘star presence’ throughout this. She makes some wonderful use of facial expressions to project a certain ‘young but world weary’ attitude and it’s almost like silent movie acting as she completely makes you believe in her character... I found myself connecting to Anna in a way I wasn’t expecting to. Especially with a lot of things left unsaid and deliberately alluded to in terms of fleshing out her back story and relationships.

The film does show its low budget on occasion, it has to be said. When the army start blowing stuff up, for example, we hear the explosions and see the light reflecting off the young cast’s faces but we never actually see any pyrotechnics on screen. And some of the gore effects could have been a lot more gruesome to stay up there with other genre films... such as the obvious homage to Romero’s third zombie fest, Day Of The Dead, for example.

Another thing which disappointed me slightly was the ommission of the song ‘What A Day To Be Alive’ in anything other than a solo rendition over the end credits. This was the song used to promote the film on trailers and it’s kind of catchy. It’s even used exclusively on the Blu Ray menu’s and is included on the CD soundtrack so I had to find out why this was ommitted fro the actual film. Seems like this scene was supposed to open the film and the shoot was underway... which explains the existence of the full sound recording to lip synch to... but had to get cancelled due to poor weather. It’s a shame because some of the lyrics and melody from this find their way into other songs and it’s like a little coda to the musical DNA of the thing. Still, at least we have it on the soundtrack recording so there’s that.

Other than those tiny and probably quite irrelevant grumbles though... and the somewhat downer of an ending... Anna And The Apocalypse is a huge amount of fun. A blood soaked Christmas cracker that most fans of zombie films or musicals... not to mention Christmas movies... should find a refreshing change from some of the others ones they have in rotation. Definitely give this one a go... it’s a right corker. Let them shove Christmas zombies down yer throat and then sing about it to you.

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