When Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg created the zom-rom-com in 2004 with their beloved Shaun of the Dead, even they couldn’t have envisioned just how many genre mash-ups could have been spun from the walking dead.
Since then we’ve had further high-octane comedies (Zombieland), a heart-rending father and daughter yarn (Maggie), YA romance (Warm Bodies) and even a revisionist al-Qaeda-focused exploitation flick (Osombie) as well as many other variations. Into that mix now arrives the first zombie musical, Anna and the Apocalypse, which has already picked up a healthy amount of buzz on the festival circuit. It’s isn’t difficult to see why. It’s an amiable parody of that wholesome High School Musical template, which works hard to please the crowd. Unfortunately, while this fun approach initially raises a few smiles and well-earned titters, the film sadly fizzles once the zombie carnage begins.
Christmas is on the horizon in the small Scottish town of Little Haven – which seems to have more English inhabitants then it does actual countrymen – and Anna (Ella Hunt) is having to cope with the usual teen angst during school, but it’s nothing that a breezy song-and-dance routine down the corridors and in the classroom can’t solve. Exasperated by her loving widowed father (Mark Benton) and his insistence that she head off to university instead of taking a gap year, she seeks solace in her ragtag bunch of school friends, including best pal John (Malcolm Cumming), who has more than a touch of unrequited love for his fellow classmate. But before you can say “Fame, I’m gonna live forever”, Anna and John wander straight into that titular zombie destruction and are forced to defend themselves against a horde of festive flesh-eaters as they regroup with their surviving chums and head for refuge back at school.
That horror/musical juxtaposition makes for some undeniably fun moments, but ironically, the straight musical numbers before the zombie outbreak land much better than anything in the second half of the film. Hunt is an appealing heroine who is more than adequate at handling both the physical and dramatic aspects of the film, as is Cumming, but the film ambles along, full of missed opportunities where the makers could have gone full-throttle with the gore and choreography mix.
The final 30 minutes or so in particular are a bit of a slog, and the denouement which takes place in the zombie-riddled school auditorium and gives Paul Kaye (as the repressed head teacher) the opportunity to fully chomp at the scenery with a glam-like musical number, never reaches the satisfying level of carnage you’d expect. Ultimately, Anna and the Apocalypse ends up lacking the requisite bite to really make it fly as that quirky leftfield offering it so badly wants to be.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76