Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Anna and the Apocalypse - 2018 NBFF Movie Review

The Movie: Anna and the Apocalypse

The Director: John McPhail

The Cast: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye

The Story: A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven - at Christmas - forcing Anna and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones.

The Review:
Did you ever lay in bed, late at night, unable to sleep, thinking about how much you really wanted to see a Christmas zombie musical movie from the UK? Yeah, me either but here it is and it might just be the best movie I never knew I ever wanted to see. It is packed with fun comedic moments, brimming with upbeat musical numbers, and bursting with bloody good zombie smashing antics and all of it is just a delight to watch.

A little bit of history about this film that makes it even that much more interesting to watch and adds a layer of depth to its creation that you normally wouldn't consider. Back in 2009, a film school student and aspiring film maker named Ryan McHenry dreamt of creating a zombie musical because why not. This dream resulted in an award winning short film and McHenry went on to become an internet sensation creating a video series about Ryan Gosling refusing to eat cereal. Yes, that one. In 2014, work began on a feature version of Zombie Musical although production was halted after McHenry was diagnosed with bone cancer and passed away in May of 2015. Instead of shelving the project, his friends and colleagues set out to finish the film which was eventually renamed Anna and the Apocalypse and is now dominating the film festival circuit on its way to a full holiday release.

Even with a foundation of sadness embedded into its history, there is so much joy and happiness that comes gushing out of the movie, you have to believe everyone involved was intent on creating something truly special and they certainly have. All the classic zombie movie elements are here with buckets of blood, slow walking, brain eating undead, baseball bats, and news programs on conveniently placed television sets showing the inevitable global destruction. Oddly enough, it all blends perfectly with the overly cheerful musical theatrics of movies like Grease and High School Musical and TV shows like Glee. You would think mashing all of this genre frivolity would make for an absolute mess of a final product but it all somehow works beautifully together.

Leading the cast and in the title role of Anna is Ella Hunt who lights up the screen and proves herself to be a formidable force and a true rising star that we should all keep our eyes on. She perfectly portrays the reluctantly brave hero who just happens to belt out Broadway style show tunes while bashing zombie brains with candy cane lawn ornaments. I am interested to see what else she is capable of in different types of films although I would also love to see her continue with this character in future installments if we were fortunate enough to see them made.

Two other actors who lead the way with great performances are Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu who play perfectly paired high school sweethearts and end up providing some of the funnier and more heartfelt moments of the movie. Siu's solo performance is hilarious and is sure to land her on everyone's naughty list. Mark Benton plays Anna's dad in the movie and his stern and calm demeanor is always a point of contrast to the chaos swirling around him and provides an anchor to Anna's free spirited exuberance.

The musical numbers, all written by Tommy Reilly and Roddy Hart, moved the story forward or provided some form of exposition while also being extremely catchy and upbeat, for the most part. One of the main highlights, It's that Time of Year, an interesting twist on Santa Baby, is performed as part of a stage production by Marli Siu's character and takes the subtle innuendo of that classic song and shoves it right in everyone's faces in a hilariously tongue in cheek fashion.

The only one that was a bit of a letdown was the mandatory villain number where we get to hear about his motivations and evil interpretations of the surrounding chaos and destruction but it is a necessary thing for a musical so I was fine with it. Honestly, I could do a full review of just the soundtrack discussing other standout songs like Human Voice and Soldier at War but I'll just say that this will be one of those movies where, the more you watch it, the more you will find yourself singing along and I imagine the inevitable soundtrack will be as big of a chart topping hit as the film is destined to be.

After watching the movie a second time, I have to add a few thoughts on Hollywood Ending, one of the film's best songs and one that will be stuck in your head for days. What caught my attention is that the theme of the song, no such thing as a Hollywood ending, actually carries out through the film for every single character. As you get to know each one, there is something blatantly familiar about them and you automatically think about how obvious their story will be. Well, true to the song, every single person's arc ends in a way that dashes those expectations and adds another layer of originality to the production.

Aside from all the fun musical stuff, the rest of the movie is a very entertaining zombie comedy with hi-jinks and humor coming from all angles and from just about the entire cast in some form or fashion. Most of the gags come at the expense of zombie heads and body parts being demolished in dashingly dynamic ways although the creative team seemed to know when to go full gore and when to pull back the bloodbath for maximum effect. These elements are very reminiscent of movies like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland and Anna would easily hold her own up against those horror comedy heavyweights.

The Verdict:
Anna and the Apocalypse is a gift to genre fans and should become an instant holiday classic. There is an obvious emphasis on projecting a sense of joy and optimism during a time when the world is crashing down into chaos and that is definitely the type of holiday spirit we so desperately need. Go watch this movie as soon as you have a chance.

Anna and the Apocalypse is an official selection of the 2018 North Bend Film Festival.

TwoOhSix.com coverage of NBFF 2018.

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