Zombie movies have been a staple in the horror genre for decades. It’s a subgenre that has found wild popularity due to its versatility; you can build a concept with any Mad Libs-style combination of location, rules of infection, emotional tone, character tropes, and creative kills (social critique optional, but always helpful). Despite this – or perhaps because of it – it can be genuinely difficult to create a zombie movie that generates new interest. At this point, what haven’t we seen before?
Enter Anna and the Apocalypse.
Made with equal parts Christmas movie, zombie splatter, coming-of-age tale, and musical comedy, Anna and the Apocalypse stirs in tropes from each genre to serve a triumphant cocktail that’s destined to become a classic.
Think of it as Shaun of the Dead meets High School Musical.
In the film, a zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven – at Christmas – forcing Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.
Written by Alan McDonald and the late Ryan McHenry (who created Zombie Musical, the BAFTA winning short film on which the film was based) and directed by John McPhail, Anna and the Apocalypse is full of all the incredibly catchy songs and theatrical choreography you’d expect from any large-scale musical production.
Zombie elements aside, Anna and the Apocalypse is also just a legitimately good musical. The cast is stacked with talented triple threats that act, sing, and dance their way through fight choreography with pitch-perfect comedic timing. They’re gifted performers who nail the score with soaring harmonies and emotional reprises. A special mention goes to actress Marli Siu as Lisa for her hilarious Christmas pageant performance that puts any version of “Santa Baby” to pearl-clutching shame.
For fans of both horror movies and musicals, Anna and the Apocalypse will hit a lot of familiar beats. There are moments sprinkled throughout that are reminiscent of films like Grease, West Side Story, High School Musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and Dawn of the Dead.
The film reveals an over-the-top, larger-than-life villain in the third act that would be completely absurd in any other setting, but, one should consider the fact that regularly breaking into song and elaborate dance numbers is naturally accepted as part of this narrative. Within that context, a diabolical twist isn’t so outrageous.
Anna and the Apocalypse does have a lot of overlapping genre ideas, however it manages to balance and pace out all of these elements extremely well. Nothing becomes too overwhelming; just when you forget it’s a Christmas movie, you see tinsel. When you start to think that it’s lost the musical element, boom, there’s another song.
Like Shaun of the Dead, the film does embrace its comedic moments, but knows when to take a more somber tone to respect emotional scenes. Similarly, you’re not left in a low point for too long – there’s an ebb and flow with well-timed levity to release tension. Anna and the Apocalypse slides through these emotional points with a graceful choreography.
While it’s true that zombie movies have been losing traction, this has actually been to a great benefit as new contributions to this subgenre have to bring fresh meat in order to get any attention. With its earworm soundtrack, cheeky humor, emotional depth, outrageous kills, and festive focus, Anna and the Apocalypse is definitely unlike anything else – both in the horror genre and beyond – and it’s fucking delightful.