Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

I’m excited to welcome JC Greening to the site. This is his first article here, but he’s also part of Drive-In Asylum. If you’d like to learn more about him and his many projects, here’s how to look him up on the web.

The Ending Might Not be Hollywood…But the Rest of the Film Sure Is! by JC Greening

Anyone can write about films these days. Pick up your smartphone, type in a brief tweet about how disappointed you were concerning the newest blockbuster, click “Send”, and BAM! … you are the newest cadet in a trove of a million film critics. So, if expressing your opinion about a movie is this easy in today’s media world, why take the time to write reviews at all?  Two reasons: 1) Film reviews are much more than opinions; they are historical records of the art we call “Film-making”, examining the art’s ancestry and comparing it to the overall philosophy of the “silver screen”, and 2) Just like anyone can write about films in modern times, anyone can also make films nowadays, so it is up to film reviewers to decipher the great from the mediocre.  And sadly, Anna and the Apocalypse falls smack dab in the mediocre pile, though this might not be as bad as you think.

Billed as a “Zombie Christmas Musical”, Anna and the Apocalypse opens on a normal school day in small town Scotland where we find a typical teenage daughter, Anna (played by Ella Hunt … A Katie Holmes for the Millennial generation), fighting with her father and her male childhood friend, John (Malcolm Cunning). During this opening scene, we learn that Anna’s mother has passed away, she hates her father, and she is leaving on a “go find myself” journey before university begins. Along the way in this opening day, we are introduced to all of the characters, such as a nerdy couple, the estranged lesbian fighting for free speech and the “Truth” (Sarah Swine, who also choreographed the film), the previous idiot boyfriend of Anna’s (Nick, played by Ben Wiggins), and the super mean principle/headmaster, Arthur Savage (Paul Kage, known for his role as Thoros of Myr in Game of Thrones, where oddly he battles zombies there too).  Throw in some show tunes like “Breakaway” and “No Such Thing as a Hollywood Ending”, and you have the perfect beginning to a high school musical.  

Now it is time to throw in some classic Millennial humor, as the next day has Anna and John singing and dancing about how it is a “Great Time to be Alive”, completely oblivious to the zombie apocalypse occurring around them, thanks to their headphones and their “it’s all about me” lifestyles.  Even once they realize that zombies are attacking and they retreat to their crappy workplace, “Thunder Balls” Bowling Alley, the supposed laughs continue with lines like, “Justin Bieber is a zombie” and “Hashtag #EvacSelfie”, which the film shows tons of funny selfies of humans with zombies, including a sneak peek of Ash Campbell with a zombie.

The intensity of the zombie attacks continue to rise; bad boy Nick comes to the rescue in a classic montage killing scene while he bravely sings, “Soldier at War”; and the now greater villain of Headmaster Savage allows everyone in the “safe” school to become flesh-eating monsters as he belts out “Nothing’s Going to Stop Me Now!”  Include a few heart-warming character death scenes, a classic showdown between final girl and villain, and a last-minute escape plan that “just might work”, and you can call it a wrap on this self-proclaimed “genre-bending” film, Anna and the Apocalypse.

First of all, there is nothing “genre-bending” about this film.  It might be the first Horror Musical to come out of Scotland, but Horror Musicals have been around since the Golden Age of Cinema. Furthermore, if we excluded the word “zombie apocalypse” from the film’s plot, it sounds like any Disney film or Classic Musical released in Hollywood for the past one hundred years.  he Millennial jokes are stale and overused by this point, and even if it taps into the Christmas holiday in a unique way (which it doesn’t), the title of the film sure won’t let you know that it is Christmas-related. So, Anna and the Apocalypse fails on numerous fronts.

Yet, all this being said, I like the film. What appears at first to be an amateur filmmaker trying to be unique but failing completely, after numerous views I firmly believe the director, John McPhail, understands the richness of Musical film history and is adding his entry into the movie genealogical record book. It is this generation’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, if you will, and it keeps the Horror Musical genre alive and moving through time by capturing what is popular at this moment in movie culture: zombies and Millennials. There are parts where I genuinely cared for the characters and laughed at the punchlines. There are some amazing choreographed scenes and lyrics, with the music numbers combed perfectly into the storyline. The film is well-made with wonderful lighting techniques throughout the film. And there is never that second act lull that so many musicals are guilty of (think The Ghastly Love of Johnny X).

But, I will let you be the judge as to whether I am guilty of seeing the film in a deeper sense than it was intended. I have definitely been guilty of that before! Though in my defense, if the film makes me think in a more meaningful way concerning movie-making in general and musicals specifically, than does it matter if that was the film’s original intention?  

Something truly to ponder … and this is the exact reason why we should continue writing about and making films of all kinds and in all times. Thank you, Anna and the Apocalypse, for being a mediocre entry into the small, but deeply appreciated, Horror Musical genre. It is exactly what we needed … a reminder of where the genre has been and where it needs to go.

You can rent Anna and the Apocalypse on Amazon or On-Demand.

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