I don’t think I will ever be able to explain how Anna and the Apocalypse exists. Someone had to have woken up one day and decided “Gee, you know what the world needs? A musical about the zombie apocalypse set during Christmas!” Just by that description alone, Anna and the Apocalypse should not have worked. Making a Christmas musical? Those are a dime a dozen this time of year. A zombie movie set during Christmas? If we can have horror movies like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Krampus, we can have a zombie Christmas movie. But a Christmas zombie musical? That just sounds like a bad idea. It sounds like an idea a teenager would scribble on their high school notebook.
Ridiculous concept aside, if this movie was ever going to appeal to someone, it would be me. I love musicals and have an iPod dedicated just to Broadway shows and movie musicals. I love Christmas more than any time of year. I also love some good zombie action, though admittingly in moderation. After tracking down one of the ludicrously few screenings (it was in five theaters last week and expanded to 30 this week), I think I can say that this is the cultiest Christmas movie that ever culted.
Anna and the Apocalypse
Director: John McPhail
Release Date: November 30, 2018
It’s nearly Christmas time in the small Scottish town of Little Haven, and Anna is your average high school Senior. She has a part-time job at a bowling alley, a couple of close friends, a handsome ex-boyfriend that she hates, and her dad works as a janitor at her high school. She’s planning and saving up enough money to travel to Australia for a year, but out of nowhere… zombies. Life gets turned upside down and Anna, along with her best friend John and a few other classmates, try to fight their way to their high school where their families are sheltering in place until someone can rescue them. Oh, and there’s a lot of signing. A looooooooot of singing.
Going into Anna and the Apocalypse, I was always going to be the most critical about its music. A musical lives and dies by its songs and unless you can nail a majority of your soundtrack, I’m not going to be interested in it. I was quite surprised though with just how good Anna’s soundtrack is. It’s nothing that’s going to rock your socks off, in fact most of the songs in the middle were pretty forgettable, but there were just enough great songs with catchy beats to keep me entertained. “Hollywood Ending” is probably the best song in the movie, featuring a giant dance break as characters sing about how life isn’t like some Hollywood movie, with a close runner-up being the closer “I Will Believe.”
The point of a musical is to tell a story through music. The idea is that the emotions and ideas are so intense and large that the characters need to let them out in a large and over-the-top way. They need to sing because it’s the only way they can release their bottled up feelings. Anna partially succeeds at this. The characters only sing at emotionally intense moments and the lyrics usually inform us about what’s going on internally, but there are a handful of times where the lyrics don’t quite match up. To make matters worse, when the lyrics don’t sync up, it completely sucks me out of the movie.
Take “Human Voice” for example, which plays after our heroes realize that no one is coming to save them and the entire world has gone to shit. Thematically, the song sounds like something out of a Silent Hill game, which works for the given situation, but the lyrics are instead about how they want to have physical conversations instead of through technology and they need the comfort of someone in person for them to feel somewhat secure. A touching sentiment, except that most of the characters sing this song together surrounded by other people. Even worse, this theme of technology interfering with social interaction was never brought up before or since, so its random inclusion here is baffling and serves no purpose other than to have a sad song. It’s sloppy.
As for the zombies themselves, they’re nothing that you haven’t seen before. If you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead, you’ve seen exactly the kind of action and humor on display here. Nothing really stands out about the zombies themselves except that a few of them wear some silly costumes. There’s a zombie Santa, a zombie snowman, two zombies in penguin suits, and a zombie in a festive light-up sweater. All of the other zombies are pretty generic with their deaths pretty ho-hum if I’m being perfectly honest.
Then again, Anna and the Apocalypse isn’t trying to be an action movie. It’s trying to be a musical first and foremost, just with some action thrown in. Unfortunately, whenever the action does pop up it’s pretty unspectacular. You can tell that the action scenes for forced in there because there needed to be action scenes in a zombie apocalypse movie. The action does work thematically when characters are singing about how they can really let loose and crack some skulls because it’s “awesome,” but those moments are rare. I can tell that the movie wants to be campy with larger than life songs and dance numbers set to a bleak winter wonderland, but the gore and action don’t deliver.
At least the movie has plenty of charm to spare. From best friends to scenery chewing villains, I got to know and love the characters and their relationships with each other. The chemistry on display here, primarily between Anna and John, really made me wish that none of these characters would die, only to be sad when some of them inevitably become snacks for the zombie horde. Everyone was fair game by the end and I was genuinely curious to see who would live to the end credits.
The Christmas setting does wonders too. Most of the songs feature Christmas bells and choirs, which is nice, but the real wonder is with the setting. Seeing zombies stroll through tinsel with Christmas lights is strangely pleasant and lends to some creative imagery. Seeing a Christmas pageant showdown between Anna and a group of zombies felt strangely festive to me. I can’t pinpoint why I felt this way, but there was just the right amount of Christmas charm here to make me feel warm and tingly inside.
I can’t help but feel that Anna is going to be a modern cult classic in the same way that Krampus was. It flew by a lot of people’s radars, but it’s fun enough for it to make its way into a few people’s Christmas movie rotations. It’s very clear that Anna was a passion project for McPhail. I mean, why else would you come up with a zombie Christmas musical? That passion pays off, hitting nearly all of its initial goals.
That being said, you have to be in a bizarrely specific mood to watch this. If you want to watch it as a zombie movie, you’re going to be disappointed. If you want to watch it as a Christmas movie, there’s a chance you’ll be satisfied. The only part of this movie I can say is legitimately great is the musical parts of it, but even then it does have some pretty big missteps.
But I couldn’t help enjoying myself. I said at the beginning that I was the target demographic for this movie and while I can separate my personal feelings from my logical side, I can’t deny that I had a huge grin on my face whenever the cast broke out into song or someone made a Christmas reference. Anna and the Apocalypse is flawed and is for an ultra-specific crowd, but if you fall into that crowd you’re going to have a blast. I can’t fully recommend it though unless you like zombie movies, Christmas movies, and musicals. If you like only one of the three, then you should probably stay away from this. If you like two of the three, then I say give it a try and see what happens. Maybe the rough around the edges charm of its Christmas spirit will rub off on you.