09th Jul2018

EIFF 2018: ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye | Written by Alan McDonald, Ryan McHenry | Directed by John McPhail

anna-apocalypse-poster

Director John McPhail takes genre mash-up to new heights with this hugely entertaining Scottish horror comedy that plays like Shaun of the Dead meets High School Musical. It’s derived from the 2011 Scottish short Zombie Musical, whose late director Ryan McHenry (also responsible for the Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal meme) co-wrote the script before his tragic death in 2015.

Ella Hunt (Robot Overlords) plays Anna, a sixth former at her school in the small town of New Haven, who clashes with her widowed father (Mark Benton) over her desire to spend a year travelling instead of going off to university. Soon, however, Anna realises she has much bigger problems on her hands, as New Haven faces a full-on zombie apocalypse.

Banding together with platonic best friend John (Malcolm Cumming), class bully Nick (Ben Wiggins), lesbian student journalist (Sarah Swire) and film nerd Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Anna attempts to reach the school, where her janitor father and Chris’ girlfriend Lisa (Marli Siu) are holed up with the increasingly tyrannical Principal Savage (Paul Kaye), in preparation for the school’s Christmas show.

With any genre mash-up, it’s vitally important to get each element right, so McPhail deserves full credit for ensuring that Anna and the Apocalypse nails all three of its constituent parts. To take each of those in turn, the zombie scenes have plenty of icky gore moments and the deaths are both shocking and genuinely moving. They’re also delightfully inventive in places – this is probably the first film to feature a zombie death by see-saw, for example.

Similarly, the songs – by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly – are superb, combining catchy tunes and witty lyrics, but also serving to move the plot forward and reveal character. To that end, Marli Siu’s saucy Santa number (her piece for the school show) is a definite highlight, while a baseball-bat-wielding Wiggins comes close to stealing the show with a West Side Story-inspired number about how much fun it is killing zombies. (Wisely, the film decides not to have the undead singing and dancing, although co-ordinating a zombie shuffle to music might have been fun).

Crucially, the comedy element is perfectly balanced, ensuring that the jokes don’t get in the way of either the songs or the scares. On top of that, the gags are frequently very funny and feel fresh and original. One particular scene features the characters sitting around and deciding which celebrities are either dead, zombies or still alive, which is such a great gag that it’s hard to believe no-one’s included it in a zombie film before.

There are also jokes that are slightly less original, but no less funny, such as the brilliant opening, which sees Anna and John obliviously singing about their lives on their way to school and failing to notice the zombie chaos all around them, a la Shaun going to work in Shaun of the Dead.

Anna and the Apocalypse is topped off with (literally) note perfect performances from an extremely likeable cast. Hunt is terrific as Anna, combining smarts, resourcefulness and a no-nonsense attitude, as if fending off zombies is no different than being hit on at school every day. Swire (who did double duty as the film’s choreographer) also makes a strong impression, while Wiggins does a good job of making an initially obnoxious character sympathetic and Siu is so good in her afore-mentioned Santa song scene that you wish she’d been given as much screen time as the rest of the gang.

In short, Anna and the Apocalypse is a thoroughly entertaining zombie musical that fully deserves its imminent cult following and marks out director McPhail and its young cast as serious talents to watch. Don’t miss it.

**** 4/5

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