Ladies and gentleman, we’ve got a new cult classic on our hands. Sometimes you can just tell; you see a movie that does something new, riles up the audience, and you know this one is destined for cult status. This time, that film is Anna and the Apocalypse, John McPhail’s jaunty, toe-tapping musical, which plays a bit like a High School Musical Christmas special violently interrupted by the zombie apocalypse.
Ella Hunt stars as Anna — a knockout performance that establishes the young talent as a bonafide star in the making. Hollywood take note, this lady’s got the goods. On the brink of high school graduation, Anna is desperate to see the world and leave her small town behind, much to her father’s (Mark Benton) chagrin. While Anna is definitely the hero of the film, Anna and the Apocalypse is filled out with a classic teen musical ensemble, all of whom shine in their respective roles. There’s Malcolm Cumming as Anna’s heart-stricken best friend John, the Ducky of the group who suffers from a severe case of unrequited love. Despite her better judgment, Anna has an eye for Nick (Ben Wiggins), the pretty bad boy/school bully. There’s the wannabe filmmaker (Christopher Leveaux), his musical theater BAE (Marli Siu), the woke teen lesbian (Sarah Swire), and the power-hungry headmaster, appropriately named Savage (Paul Kaye), who torments them all.
They’re lusty, longing teenagers and they express their feelings by bursting into song in the cafeteria and dancing past the lockers in the halls, and whenever they do, Anna and the Apocalypse courses with energy. Songwriters Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly have done fantastic work here, and each new song will have you bopping your head along, wondering how long you’ll have to wait before you can download the soundtrack and listen to it ad naseum. There are rousing ensemble numbers, heartfelt solos, and badass rock ballads galore, and the music evolves with the action of the film beautifully. And of course, there is Christmas music, including a hypersexualized riff on “Santa Baby” that may just be the biggest crowd-pleaser of the bunch. It’s a testament to the quality of the music that it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite —the musical element isn’t just a gimmick, there’s genuine songcraft here.
But Anna and the Apocalypse isn’t just a musical, it’s a zombie movie and that element fares just as well in the horror hybrid. The musical numbers take center stage in the first act, but once the zombie plague is unleashed, the film dabbles in the tropes of the zombie genre with a steady hand, playing against expectations and taking cues from genre classics, old and new alike. Shaun of the Dead is clearly a big influence on the film, including an early musical number that follows Anna — wrapped up in a musical number — through the streets of the ravaged townscape, singing, dancing, and utterly failing to notice the carnage all around her. It’s a clear tip of the hat, but it doesn’t feel like a rip-off.