ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE **** UK 2017 Dir: John McPhail. 107 mins
The first ever Scottish Christmas-set zombie musical, in which the eponymous zombie apocalypse hits just as the appealing Anna (Ella Hunt) is planning her gap year. Meanwhile, fascist headmaster Paul Kaye (relishing his teeth-clenching bastardry) keeps a miserable eye over his pupils’ festive show, where scene-stealing Marli Siu performs a splendidly smutty ode to Santa. Before unleashing its expected rampage of rotting Santas, elves and snowmen, this sets up its likeable protagonists via a traditional opening “breakaway” musical number and a bravura cafeteria set piece (“No Such Thing As A Hollywood Ending”) reflecting the influence of HIGH SCHOOL THE MUSICAL. Its biggest nod to the most obvious inspiration (SHAUN OF THE DEAD) is a sequence reworking Shaun’s oblivious early morning walk through virus-hit London as a joie-de-vivre duet between equally ignorant protagonists celebrating a brand new day while carnage explodes all around them. The catchy, briskly staged musical numbers are balanced with witty pop culture references, apocalyptic geek humour (speculation about whether Ryan Gosling has been turned) and inventive riffs on familiar horror comedy backdrops – notably, zombies-in-a-bowling-alley. The songs are smart and dynamic, encompassing a musical version of all those zombie movie scenes in which survivors fail to agree on the best course of action; an emotional lament about modern communication as the bombs drop (“I Need A Human Voice”); and a rousing rock anthem to accompany a zombie-killing montage. Like SHAUN, it doesn’t shy away from grim plot developments in which loved ones perish horribly and there’s no happy resolution around the corner, but its eagerness to please and the rousing set pieces make it a joy to watch.
Review by Steven West