By: Emily von Seele
One of the films that topped my list at North Bend Film Fest and gave me more joy than my little horror-loving heart could stand was Anna And The Apocalypse. It’s a zombie movie. And also a big musical. Oh and also a holiday movie. And a comedy.
Little Haven seems like a standard small town — the high school headmaster (Paul Kaye) is an angry bully, Anna (Ella Hunt) is trying to assert her independence, Steph (Sarah Swire) is lamenting having to spend Christmas alone, John (Malcolm Cumming) is trying to deal with being a nice guy but also kind of an unseen dork, and Chris (Christopher Leveaux) and Lisa (Marli Siu) are the cutest couple to ever walk the halls of the school.
Oh, and everybody spontaneously breaks into song and dance.
It seems like a typical, quiet Christmas season — until the living dead begin to walk the streets. When Anna wakes up the morning after the Christmas pageant, she discovers that most of the inhabitants of her small Scottish town have turned into zombies. She and John, her best friend, have to try to get across town to the high school to reunite with their families, who were trapped in the building after the pageant ended. Along the way, they meet up with a few more of their friends (safety in numbers), and together, they have to face down the undead.
I really can’t sing (haha — “sing”) the praises of this film loud enough. There are musical numbers. There is dancing. There are zombies. It happens at Christmas time. There is blood. Lots of blood. Best of all, it’s funny as hell. Writers Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry peppered their script with some fantastic wit and the actors deliver it perfectly.
Though the film is relatively short and it is balancing a rather large cast, it never feels like we don’t get enough time to know these characters. They never feel like they are just there to pad the body count. We get to know who these people are and enjoy the time that we spend in their presence. We genuinely begin to worry about them in the face of oncoming danger and that provides enough tension in the more serious parts of the film to keep you invested.
The film has a huge heart, which is part of what keeps it from wallowing in the dregs of the usual zombie fare. While the plot itself is a bit standard issue (zombie apocalypse hits, friends must band together to survive, not everybody makes it, etc.), it doesn’t feel even a little bit tired because you are invested from the first five minutes. The big musical numbers draw you in, the humor carries you along, and the writing and performances make you fall in love with the characters and keep you invested in their continued survival.
This is a film that I look forward to making part of my holiday viewing ritual every year, and expect many other horror fans will feel the same way. It’s a film that stays true to the zombie subgenre, but never lets that get in the way of providing a raucous musical at the same time. It’s really a masterful balancing act and director John McPhail knocks it out of the park. The film is out in December, and I can’t wait to be able to share it with my nearest and dearest.