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Anna and the Apocalypse (Movie Review)

Anna and the Apocalypse (Movie Review)
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PLOT: When the zombie apocalypse befalls the quaint town of Little Haven, Scotland during Christmastime, the fate of the world sits on the shoulders of singing and dancing high-school student Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends.

REVIEW: Never mind LA LA LAND, if you took the preeminent British zom-com SHAUN OF THE DEAD and tossed into the old Brundle gene splicer with LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and added a dash of FROZEN, you’d get a pretty good glimpse of what John McPhail’s new uproarious horror romp ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE looks like. That is, the formula of fomenting a low-brow gory-cornucopia with the high-concept camp and kitsch of a chipper song and dance display is certainly a refreshing one, but one that is rarely, if ever, executed to perfection. And while ANNA too is far from overall perfection, what is struck without a false note is the tonally harmonic pitch between dark horror and light humor. The key is the Christmastime setting, which inherently lends itself to festival of spirited caroling that is meant to be joyous and cheerily uplifting. Based on the 2011 short film ZOMBIE MUSICAL, the late creator of which, Ryan McHenry, is acknowledged in a touching post-credit dedication, ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE reminds us how much fun can be had while watching a horror film. Aside from some overly-saccharine song and dance numbers, a second-act dip that tends to wear off its novelty, and a few misdemeanor zombie platitudes, you aren’t likely to find a more enjoyable APOCALYPSE anytime soon!

The film opens with a tone-setting, show-stopping number in which Anna (Hunt), a plucky high-school teenager, delightfully croons and choreographs her way through a throng of flesh-starved ghouls teeming in the suburban streets. The hilarity derives from how inured Anna is too her hellish surroundings, yet decides to gleefully meet the day with the bouncy ELO-like “Turning My Life Around,” the jarring juxtaposition of such stark horror and schmaltzy humor primes us for what’s to come. Anna, who dreams of whisking away from her quaint town of Little Haven to make it big before settling down and attending university, has many obstacles in her way. Anna’s disapproving father Tony (Mark Benton) tamps Anna’s aspirations, but she cannot flee very far anyway due to the fact slavering hordes of the undead have taken over the globe. But instead of pouting it about it, Anna skips, sings, slays, slashes, scours and outsmarts her way through an unending cavalcade of blood-parched ghouls with her pals Steph (Sarah Swire), Chris (Christopher Leveaux), Nick (Ben Wiggins) and John (Malcolm Cumming). As Anna thwarts her metaphysical assailants, she too conquers the inner-demons that keep her from breaking out.

What works so well in ANNA is just how well balanced and assured the two bipolar tones are tied together to synthesize an exhilarating new whole. We’ve seen horror musicals attempted in the past, but never executed this well or pushed to such extremes on each side of the ledger. By brilliantly setting the film during Christmas, a certain leeway is granted to the overly sappy and sugary pop songs that accompany such a holiday; a distinction that without such, would equate to little more than a Hallmark version of High School Musical 4. We’ll muse on music in a moment, but suffice it to say, the blithely catchy musical numbers are nastily neutralized by the equally extreme stints of grisly carnage. And not just any carnage, but iconographic holiday themed savagery, a la candy-cane impalements, snowman decollations, ferocious Christmas tree farm assaults, etc., which reinforce to the cheerful holiday spirit. Even the yuletide festoonery of the indelible bowling alley set-piece is used to great effect. The result of having such a firm grip on the horror and the humor, as well as the unmatched savvy to seamlessly stitch them together in such a delightfully amusing manner, is nothing short of felicitous. The result is a balefully blissful blessing!

Unfortunately, I did not respond as well to the music itself as I did the horrific action set against it. Shocking for a horror fan, I know. But too often I found the musical numbers a bit too cloying, a bit too Disney-eqsue in their sweeping saccharine catchiness and bubblegum pop. Granted, the lyrics to such songs subvert the sounds a bit, but still, there were too many times I felt I was listening to leftover tracks from THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. Thankfully much of the upbeat songs and silly dance routines are back-dropped by gorily pernicious stints of violence, otherwise less forgivable these tracks might be. Moreover, by the time the film reaches the hour mark or so, you can sort of feel the momentum sag a bit and the refreshing novelty of the zombie musical mash-up begin to wear thin before cranking back up to the voluble and vilely vicious finale. Of the dozen or so songs listed on the soundtrack, written by Tommy Reilly and Roddy Hart and actually recorded by the stars of the film, personal standouts beyond the opener include the electro inspired “The Fish Wrap,” the slow jazzy “It’s That Time of the Year” and the Queen-like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now.”

In the end, ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE achieves with great mirth and murder, exactly what it sets out to: namely to inject a revivified energy and spirited vibe into not only the zombie comedy subgenre, but also the even smaller subset of horror-musicals and holiday horror outings alike. The result is a tinsel-wrapped gift package full of resplendent grue, heartfelt coming-of-age musical numbers and a perfectly-pitched melodic mélange of horror and humor. Sans a few flaws, it’s exactly the kind of movie to see this Christmastime!

Source: AITH

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