Scotland’s zombie apocalypse Christmas musical
Kicking off the Glasgow Youth Film Festival this year was Anna and the Apocalypse, a delightfully quirky zombie apocalypse Christmas musical. Yes, you read that right. Based on the 2011 short film Zombie Musical by the late Scottish director Ryan McHenry, this bizarre genre mash-up is set in a sleepy Scottish town from which our heroine, Anna (Ella Hunt, Les Misérables), longs to break free. Anna has to deal with the usual teenage issues, such as a dad (Mark Benton) unwilling to let her fly from the nest. When zombies begin roaming the streets in search of flesh, however, Anna and her gang of friends find themselves with more pressing problems to confront. Although zombies play an integral role in the film, and director John McPhail does not shy away from using blood and gore for a shock effect, Anna and the Apocalypse is more about the bonds of friendship through the toughest of times. Grim though their predicament may be, Anna and her friends still manage to crack jokes and find something to smile about. Oh, and they sing.
If you’d ever wondered what would happen if you put High School Musical and The Walking Dead together, this is your answer, only it is less annoying than High School Musical and way catchier than The Walking Dead. The songs are fun and upbeat, and although not all of them are a hit, the cast performs them with enough enthusiasm that you don’t mind the odd clanger of a line. The friendship of Anna and her maybe-boyfriend John is not only touching, it seems authentic, and you get the sense that all of the cast members get on well together both on and off-set. Sarah Swire is a moody, Scarlett Johansson-esque lesbian, whilst Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu play a cute couple. Ben Wiggins, meanwhile, is the macho jock, and Paul Kaye (Thoros of Myr in Game of Thrones) is the villainous headmaster. These might just sound like generic stock characters, and perhaps that is how they began, but Alan McDonald’s witty script injects real personality into them so that you really care about them. What’s more, there are some nice unexpected twists which serve to keep you on your toes. The occasional shifts from a cheerful to a much darker tone is not always managed smoothly so that it can feel unclear at times what the film is trying to be. Overall, however, Anna and the Apocalypse is remarkably cohesive, given its ambitious breadth of themes and genres. Furthermore, there are some laugh-out-loud moments, such as a racy Christmas song performed by Marli Siu, as well as some genuinely emotional scenes.
What’s more Anna and the Apocalypse is a chance for the homegrown film industry to toot its own horn; the film has been doing the festival rounds in America and Europe and is now promised a release in the US. Yet, director John McPhail, wearing a Father Christmas hat as a nudge to the film, still got emotional to seeing Anna and the Apocalypse on the GFT screens during GYFF 2018.
Whilst not for the faint of hearted, Anna and the Apocalypse (which will splatter onto cinemas this Christmas) is a must-see for anyone who enjoys a good zombie film or musical, or even better, both! Be warned, though: you might never be able to look at a zombie the same way again.