With the holidays bearing down upon the Scottish town of Little Haven, an eighteen-year old high school senior (Ella Hunt) has been avoiding telling her widowed dad (Mark Benton) that her plans for her future don't align with his. Her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming), who is secretly pining for her and dreading their upcoming separation when he goes to art school and she takes an Australian gap year, unintentionally spills the beans. That will be the least of their problems as the government announces that a conjectured flu strain is proving lethal in "Anna and the Apocalypse."
What's not to like about a zombie Christmas musical set in Scotland? More than you would imagine, as it turns out. This adaptation of the 2010 BAFTA winning short “Zombie Musical” features a charismatic lead, a couple of witty songs, a couple of lively dance numbers and an homage to "Night of the Living Dead," but it also wears out its welcome. Worst of all, for a cheeky holiday romp, it's rather mean-spirited, killing off most of its likable characters and leaving its heroine with little hope, its ending as uplifting as that of "The Birds."
Perhaps composers Roddy Hart & Tommy Reilly mean to tip us off with their early number 'Hollywood Ending,' which advises that life doesn't have them. But that song arrives during the film's first act, while things are still fun, its teenaged characters' various life obstacles being introduced. In addition to Anna and John, Steph (the film's choreographer Sarah Swire) is trying to bring attention to serious issues while dealing with an absentee girlfriend and parents, aspiring filmmaker Chris (Christopher Leveaux) is being challenged to drop the pop culture and get real while his girlfriend Lisa (Marli Siu) has eyes only for him and the upcoming holiday show and bad boy Nick (Ben Wiggins) is annoying John by eyeballing Anna. All of them, including Anna's school janitor dad Tony, have to put up with tyrannical Headmaster Savage (Paul Kaye).
The characters are split on opposite ends of town by various obligations, enabling the film's second act action. While Savage, Tony working stage lights by his side, sputters over the obscene 'filth' of Lisa's hilariously suggestive holiday song 'It's That Time of Year,' the only show number to receive enthusiastic applause, Anna and John slog through their jobs at the bowling alley while Chris accompanies Steph to shoot her work at a soup kitchen. Director John McPhail keeps the zombie presence way in the background, a news snippet here, an odd sight there to be caught by attentive audiences. Anna's first conscious contact with the living dead takes place on her way to work, as she skips and sings through a cemetery.
That scene is the film's best, the earbudded Anna singing about turning her life around as mayhem unfolds behind her. It's been done before, but it's done well here. But other than some occasionally inspired lyrics, the tunes aren't memorable. Savage's third act 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Me Now' benefits from staging that gives it a 'Rocky Horror' vibe. Other than the shock of an initial decapitation, zombie encounters are rote. Standing in for Little Haven, Port Glasgow seems a depressingly utilitarian place, Scottish beauty reflected in snow topped mountains in the distance and the River Clyde. (The setting may remind some of "London Road," another macabre British musical, albeit a much more successful one.)
The filmmakers have tried to infuse their film with life lessons for those on the cusp of adulthood, a worthy goal, but in the process they seem to have forgotten the primary objective of what 'zombie Christmas musical' promises - fun.
Robin did not see this film.
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